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What makes it possible to see a painting as a painting?And, under such conditions of its presentation, to what end painting? Looking back at these same queries twenty years later, what seems most notable is that, while the question of painting remains open, Crimp does not phrase his discussion in terms of abstraction.Concluding this section, Sheldon Nodelman’s essay, “Marden, Novros, Rothko: Painting in the Age of Actuality,” opposes the experience of paintings as illusion or “virtual” space to paintings in the “actual” space of installation.
To what end painting, now at the threshold of the 1980s? What seems particularly significant here is Crimp’s own response to the question.
Turning to Daniel Buren’s in situ practices as a way to emphasize the concerns that are central to painting, he asks: “What makes it possible to see a painting?
This section also includes Lucy Lippard’s essay, “The Silent Art,” and Grégoire Müller’s text, “After the Ultimate,” both of which investigate monochrome painting as a particular form of abstraction, raising the question of an endpoint or closure that then demands other possibilities for thinking how abstraction continues.
Beginning with Claude Monet and running up through Josef Albers, Kenneth Noland, and Ellsworth Kelly, John Coplan’s “Serial Imagery” offers a historical and critical example of the promise a serial approach to painting provides, and takes the seriality of Albers and Yves Klein as a challenge to an American fixation on autonomy.
Colpitt, who has long been one of the important voices concerning abstract art, notably from outside of East Coast contexts, concludes the volume with a long essay, “Systems of Opinion: Abstract Painting since 1959.” In Colpitt’s anthology, there are some instances in which the questions raised within abstraction turn strongly toward a more direct concern with painting as such.
A pertinent example is Crimp’s often-cited essay, “The End of Painting.” Commenting on the resurgence of various “returns” to abstract painting in the 1980s, which were centered on the assumed resilience of the medium and a certain faith in painting’s ability to continue as a viable practice, Crimp asks, “Why Painting?
Douglas Crimp’s “The End of Painting” from 1983 interrogates the relevance of all painting, not simply abstraction, to society; Hal Foster’s ”Signs Taken for Wonders” raises the question of the relationship between financial capital and abstract painting; Gilbert-Rolfe’s “The Current State of Nonrepresentation” insists on the potential of abstract painting to continue as a viable practice when understood as “nonrepresentation,” opening a counterhistorical form of painting that is concerned with the objectness of the artwork, understood in terms of a Derridean discourse of deferral; Donald Kuspit’s “The Abstract Self-Object” investigates abstract painting in terms of its psychological implications; and David Pagel’s “Once Removed from What?
” takes up questions of the definition and contemporary situation of abstraction in relation to feminism and formalism.
Combined with questions concerning theoretical and philosophical issues relating to contemporary painting, Ryan’s interviews are both insightful and provocative, and, for the most part, his questions solicit a wide array of critical responses.
Ryan’s introduction sets up the context for the essays and conversations with some useful summaries of the issues that he claims are relevant as background to abstract painting today: the notion of modernist autonomy framed as reductive; relationships of parts to whole; and the importance of language to the practice of painting.