FOREVER. The. Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World HOPTMAN. Laura Hoptman. The Museum ofmodernart, New York. Forever now Hoptman, Laura J.

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1 ND H HOPTMAN Laura Hoptman Forever now Hoptman, Laura J. The FOREVER Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World The Museum ofmodernart, New York

2 The FOREVER NOW Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World Laura Hoptman A TEMPORALITY W hat characterizes our cultural moment at the beginning of this new millennium is the inability-or perhaps the refusal-of a great many of our cultural artifacts to define the times in which we live. This is an unsettling and wholly unique phenomenon in Western culture and it should come as no surprise that it was first identified by a science-fiction writer, William Gibson, who in 2003 used the word atemporality to describe a new and strange state of the world in which, courtesy of the Internet, all eras seem to exist at once. 1 Since that time, a temporality has been observed in literature, popular music, and fashion, and subsequently called many different names, including retromania, hauntology, presentism, and super-hybridity. 2 1 Simon Reynolds, Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (New York: Faber and Faber, 2011), 397. Gibson and subsequently Bruce Sterling, who coined the term "steampunk," are cited as the first responders in a growing popular literature devoted to tracking the atemporal across cultural production. It has even been examined as a broad attitudinal phenomenon in media theorist Douglas Rushkoff's Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (New York: Current, 2013). 2 Retromania, music critic Reynolds's book-length exegesis of the state of popular music since the end of the 1990s, is the most extensive study of the different strategies that pop musicians use to make atemporal music, and a number of his designations, including his explanation of sampling, have implications for contemporary visual art. Hauntology stems from the writings of Jacques Derrida, who used haunting as a metaphor to describe the contemporary state of Marxist thought in his book, Spectres of Marx (1993), which inspired the exhibition Hauntoiogy at the Berkeley Art Museum (July 14-December 5, 2010). Curated by Scott Hewicker and Lawrence Rinder, the exhibition looked at hauntology as metaphor, presenting art with the themes of memory, longing, disappearance, melancholy, and so on. Presentism is used by Rushkoff in Present Shock (12), and super-hybridity was coined by Jiirg Heiser in his "Pick & Mix," frieze 133 (September 2010): 13, and discussed in a roundtable conversation in the same issue: "Analyze This" (94-102). 13

3 All of these terms attempt to describe a cultural product of our time that paradoxically does not represent-either through style, content, or medium-the time from which it comes. The a temporal song, story, or painting contains elements of history but isn't historical; it is innovative but not novel, pertinent rather than prescient. In visual art, atemporality manifests itself as a kind of art-making that is inspired by, refers to, or avails itself of styles, subjects, motifs, materials, strategies, and ideas from an array of periods on the art-historical timeline. Artists have always looked to art history for inspiration, but the immediate and hugely expanded catalogue of visual information offered by the Internet has radically altered visual artists' relationship to the history of art and caused, as the painter Matt Connors puts it, a "redirection of artistic inquiry from strictly forward moving into a kind of super-branched -out questioning." 3 Unlike past periods of revivalism, such as the appropriationist eighties, this super-charged art historicism is neither critical nor ironic; it's not even nostalgic. It is closest to a connoisseurship of boundless information, a picking and choosing of elements of the past to resolve a problem or a task at hand. Connors, one of the most self-conscious and thoughtful practitioners of a temporal art, understands his work not as a representation of a point in the art-historical past, but as part of a very new, very broad notion of a network of possibilities that stretches horizontally across time periods. He makes clear that his work does not fit easily within the art-historical matrix of influence, affinity, and context, because its subject is, in essence, the sum of these. When queried recently about his sources, he points to a genealogy of influence that includes artists from a large section of the postwar art-historical map: in addition to the Abstract Expressionists and Color Field painters whom he mentions generally, he cites Henri Matisse, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman, Paul Feeley, Kenneth Noland, Yves Klein, Daniel Buren, Martin Barre, Olivier Mosset, Blinky Palermo, Gerhard Richter, Martin Kippenberger, Imi Knoebel, and Sigmar Polke.4 Looking at one ofhis highly saturated monochromes in the color of a Los Angeles sunset, one can only agree that, against the better judgment of our teleologically programmed brains, all of those references are there. 3 Matt Connors, quoted in Christopher Bedford, "Dear Painter," frieze (March 2012): Ibid. 7' ~ \,.-1 'ilia 14

4 This use and assimilation of dizzying varieties of sources have pseudomorphic relationships to appropriation in the 1980s sense of the word, the weapon of choice for the postmodern critique of originality, the object, and the institution. More than thirty years on, one can argue that these battles are over, perhaps even won, or at least that artists aren't interested in fighting them any longer. In the eighties, artists lifted images and styles from art history and pop culture and dropped them in the arena of contemporary art as if they were toxic readymades, stripped of their auras of power and persuasion through decontextualization. In this new economy of surplus historical references, the makers take what they wish to make their point or their painting without guilt, and equally important, without an agenda based on a received meaning of a style. If one can use something with originality, it is the same as authoring it oneself.s As the Colombian-born, London-based painter Oscar Murillo says bluntly: "We have everything available and we can just use what's there and around, but not feel concerned by it." 6 Murillo is not saying that there are no stakes involved in borrowing from the freighted language ofeuro-american modernism. Rather he is reminding those of us with long memories of the opening salvo of postmodern critique: that the stakes have irrevocably changed. The transfer of styles, of motifs, of ideas, from a historical context to the present one does not reinforce their obsolescence. In fact, the opposite occurs. In the atemporal present, they are resurrected and made newly relevant. At this moment in time we can look back at the condition of postmodernism and say, "Yup, that happened." And then we can observe, "Now, there's this." A work of art that refutes the possibility of chronological classification offers a dramatic challenge to the structure that disciplines like art history enforce-the great, ladder-like narrative of cultural progress that is so dependent upon the idea of the new superseding the old in a movement simultaneously forward and upward. This is not the first time that there have been challenges to the construct of historical progress/ and in a sense it is not progress as such that is at stake in this new, atemporal universe. Time-based terms like progressive-and its opposite, reactionary, avant- and arriere-garde-are oflittle use to describe atemporal works of art. 5 Johanna Burton discusses this idea in "Not the Last Word," Artforum (September 2009): Oscar Murillo, quoted in Hans Ulrich Obrist, "Hans Ulrich Obrist Interview with Oscar Murillo," in Juan Roselione-Valadez, ed., Oscar Murillo: work (Miami: Rubel I Family Collection, 2012), For example, see George Kubler's The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962) or conservative pundit Francis Fukuyama's 1989 book The End of History. While Kubler suggested a less "biological" model for historical development, he never questioned the notion of progress. Neither did Fukuyama, who argued that in terms of political formations of society, we had reached the apex. 15

5 It would be more accurate and more poetic to understand them as existing in the eternal present. 8 This is a temporal state in which, to optimistic prognosticators, the past and the future have been made available simultaneously. Instead of an information superhighway,9 we can picture the eternal present as an endlessly flat surface with vistas in every direction-not unlike the surface of a painting. COROLLARY: THE ATEMPORAL USES OF STYLE I n 2007, the journalist Chris Anderson introduced the theory of the "Long Tail," originally formulated to modify international marketing strategies. 10 The theory holds that beginning at the turn of the millennium, with the explosion of digital possibilities for dissemination of products, it became possible to have economic success if a large number of products were each consumed by a small, subgroup of consumers. This phenomenon of the few patronizing the many turned traditional marketing theory on its head because it obviated the economic necessity of an enormous, international cohort of people coalescing around one particular song, or cola, or dress length. This evolution away from the "hit," encourages the proliferation of myriad genres and subgenres of products, each of which appeals to its own microcommunity. The Long Tail theory has a peculiar relevance to visual culture in the wake of information delivery systems like the Internet and, more recently, the smartphone, that have made visual art available not only to artists and critics, but also to a growing consumer base. These tools allow us to access data contemporaneously (despite the date of manufacture) and non-hierarchically,n erasing time-honored indicators of significance and value. One result of this is the enormous, international expansion of the contemporary art discourse. Another is that, arguably, today's landscape of visual culture is no longer entirely ruled by a handful of hegemonic styles or monster artistic careers. Even artists like Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic, whose oeuvres have received worldwide recognition, and whose personas have penetrated, to a certain extent, popular culture, have not produced 8 This is a concept used by St. Augustine to describe the divine chronology, in which all is known of the past, present, and future. See Augustine: Confessions, Book XI. 9 The use of the term in the early 1990s is often associated with U.S. Senator AI Gore (later Vice President). 10 Chris Anderson, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (New York: Hyperion, 2006). 11 The Internet abets this flattening of hierarchies because it allows users to access digital data non-sequentially. Rushkoff, Present Shock,

6 signature artistic languages dominant enough to obliterate the general cacophony of styles that continues to flourish in studios, art schools, museums, galleries, and magazines. 12 For many critics, the absence of stylistic markers indicates the demise of a common culture, a deeply troubling development, which at best implies cultural stasis, and at worst, cultural surrender. 1 3 "We live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times," lamented the writer Douglas Coupland in an article in which he introduced literary atemporality, which he dubbed "translit." 14 Pop-music critic Simon Reynolds, who coined the term retromania to describe contemporary pop music in the a ugh ties, also sees the erosion of era-defining genres as an intellectual dead end/ 5 "We're quite deep into a phase of anything-goes, guiltless appropriation, a free-for-all of asset-stripping that ranges all over the globe and all across the span of human history," he writes. "This leads to the paradoxical combination of speed and standstill." 16 Although, Reynolds explains, we have the possibility of"rapid movement within a network of knowledge," he concludes with regret that we lack the modernism-fueled creative moxie that characterized the twentieth century, "the outward-bound drive that propelled an entire system into the unknown." 1 7 Without this jet pack driving us to a common creative future, Reynolds is despairing of contemporary music, and by extension, contemporary culture. Both Coupland's and Reynolds's observations reveal an acute nostalgia for a time when things were new and a deep mourning for the missing propulsive shot of energy that attended an act of what could be interpreted as cultural progress. But what if, as in William Gibson's original formulation, atemporality was considered as a strategy of resistance, a way of"opting out of the industrialization of novelty," 18 the syndrome of growth and expansion at any cost? What if abstaining 12 In a recent article, Michael Sanchez zeitgeist-encapsulating exhibitions." Sanchez, 14 Douglas Coupland, "Convergences," argues that in the art economy of today, with "2011: Michael Sanchez on Art and Transmission," New York Times, March 11, 2012, Sunday Book its disempowering of academics, critics, Artforum (Summer 2013): 297. Review, 1, 10. and curators in favor of consumers and sellers, 13 In an issue of frieze focused on 15 Simon Reynolds, "The Songs of Now visibility can be equated with legitimation. super-hybridity, a term coined by the critic Jorg Sound a Lot Like Then," New York Times, July "Because of the proliferation of an image via Heiser (see note 2), art critic Jennifer Allen 17, 2011, AR14. smartphone," he writes, "what has been a questions the idea of culture as a mechanism 16 Reynolds, Retromania, process of legitimation, attributable to particular for communitarianism, arguing that technology 17 Ibid., 428. institutions or critical bodies, now becomes is now the greatest aggregator. Allen, 18 David L. Ulin, "Book Review: Zero a process of simple visibility, attributable to "Postmodern Postmortem," frieze 133 History by William Gibson," Los Angeles Times, the media apparatus itself, largely outside the (September 2010): 21. September 19, 2010, channels of print media and cumbersome.com/2010/sep/19/entertainment/la-ca-william -gibson

7 from new aesthetic forms meant gaining new ways of understanding the use of form in light of digital technology and the swift circulation ofknowledge?l9 What if the promiscuous mixing of styles has the positive outcome of providing a mechanism to overcome "oppressive traditions [and] xenophobia?" 20 What if atemporality allowed us to roam around, instead of plow forward? In the language developed to describe postmodernism, the term pastiche was used as a pejorative for the practice of imitating past styles-often in combinations-without the mitigating factor of parody. Pastiche, for Fredric Jameson, a formidable voice of postmodern criticism, was an impediment to the representation of our time, as it blocked our ability to "live time historically,"n cognizant of historical precedent and thus primed to strive for a more evolved condition. Considering a temporality as a goal, rather than an undesirable result, redefines pastiche as a conscious strategy rather than a dodge. Calling out the obsolescence of periodization challenges cultural hierarchies and the insistently twentieth-century habit of considering the history of style as if it were a dog race replete with a winner's circle of those who get the privilege of representing what our moment looks like-as duly noted by art-history books. In a cultural landscape that has, in critic Jorg Heiser's terms, "moved beyond the point where it's about a fixed set of cultural genealogies and instead has turned into a kind of computational aggregate of multiple influences and sources," 22 the "anxiety of influence," in Harold Bloom's deathless parlance, might have found its meds. In Heiser's hopeful picture of the cultural now, courtesy of technology, there are no more "hungry generations... treading one another down."z3 There are only "the pleasures of intellectual inspiration and perceptual bliss" 24 that can be found in depthless bytes of information. Pastiche is an antidote not only to the dream of originality, but also to the conventional notion of style. Art historian T. J. Clark memorably quipped of Abstract Expressionism that it was "a manner in search of an object;"zs to a certain extent it is accurate to say that a great many contemporary paintings are objects 19 This question is raised in the "Analyze Nostalgia (Cambridge: Cambridge University This" round table discussion, frieze (September Press, 2003), ) (see note 2). 22 Heiser, "Pick & Mix," 13. In his 20 Heiser, "Pick & Mix," 13. discussion of super-hybridity in contemporary 21 Fredric Jameson, Postmodemism, or, art, Heiser uses the concept of hybridity as The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham formulated by Homi Bhabha, who avers that and London: Duke University Press, 1991), 284. Cited in Vera Dika, Recycled Culture in Contemporary Art and Film: The Uses of cultural identity now is not about being somewhere but about being between places. This is a formulation of location rather than time, but it parallels atemporality. 23 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), Heiser, "Pick & Mix," T. J. Clark, "In Defense of Abstract Expressionism," October 69 (Summer 1994):

8 in search of a manner. It is not exactly that style has become obsolete, 26 but perhaps rather that signifiers of styles-gestures, languages, and strategies-have become motifs. Painters in particular have been using style as a subject unto itself. 2 7 Oscar Murillo's use of calligraphic marks in some of his paintings is an example of this. In some paintings, Murillo incorporates the titles or parts of the titles of the installations of which his canvases are a part, transforming them into a kind of signage. On these canvas signs, very readable words share space with marks and scribbles that read not as writing but as glyphs in the manner of a chain of art-historical precedents, from cave graffiti to Henri Michaux and Cy Twombly. These marks on the canvas function in a similar way to the words with which they share space; they can be read as signs, in the literal sense, of a modernist lineage, creating an aura that suggests, in Murillo's words, that his paintings have been found in or come from "some other space or time." 28 For the past decade, artist Josh Smith has been prolifically painting in a myriad of genres on identically sized canvases. He has produced hundreds of gestural abstractions, expressionistic stilllifes, "name paintings" that feature Smith's signature as the central motif, monochromes, and, most recently, beachscapes in hot, tropical colors. Although the artist paints in series, there is no developmental chronology to the kinds of paintings he makes: paintings of fish are produced simultaneously with wholly abstract works; monochromatic groups appear at the same time as a brace of tropical sunset paintings. Availing himself of color Xerox technology to make more work at a speedier pace, Smith has been known to Xerox his own paintings and glue the results to canvas, sometimes collaging more than one composition together to create yet another kind of abstraction. Smith's attitude towards his own work is polyamorous, and his profligacy in a gene pool of his own creation turns him into a kind of mad breeder. Style for Smith is neither an emotional vehicle, nor an attitude, nor a belief system. It is a subject, in the sense that the flag was a subject for Jasper Johns. When asked about why he painted abstractly, Smith said of his paintings, "I don't care so much about how they look because I know how they look... they are going to look like abstract paintings." 2 9 When his works first appeared fewer than ten years ago, there was an impulse to see them 26 Coupland has suggested that atemporality can be considered a "bold new perpetual every-era/no-era" style for our moment. Coupland, "Convergences," Reynolds observes this about recent popular music in Ret romania, Murillo, quoted in Legacy Russell, "Oscar Murillo," Bomb (Winter ): Josh Smith: Abstraction (New York: Luhring Augustine, 2007), n.p. Cited in Daniel Marcus, "Eyes in the Heat: Daniel Marcus on Figuration in Jean Dubuffet, Cathy Wilkes, and Josh Smith," Artforum (Summer 2011):

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10 as a revival of mid-century American abstraction. Quite quickly, despite the artist's penchant for group hanging or exhibiting works in stacks leaning against a wall, commercial galleries began to exhibit Smith's paintings individually on white walls with plenty of room around them-the better to contemplate them as singular expressions, rather than as the serial examples of a generic notion of abstract painting that they clearly were. Abstraction is a language primed for becoming a representation of itself, because as much as it resists the attribution of specific meanings, the abstract mark cannot help but carry with it an entire utopian history of modern painting. Murillo and Smith are not alone in their acknowledgment of the received meanings of their expressionist marks. It would be difficult to identify a contemporary abstract painter who is not self-consciously referring to that history.3 "How can you look at a drip without thinking ofjackson Pollock or Sigmar Polke?," Kerstin Bratsch asked rhetorically during a recorded conversation with painter Amy Sillman. An abstract gesture is "not empty anymore but loaded with historical reference."3 1 It is characteristic of an atemporal painter to see and utilize style, as if it is a bit of iconography; some even use specific stylistic gestures and strategies in a manner akin to a medium. What atemporal painters do not do is use a past style in an uninflected manner; in other words, as a readymadey By avoiding this, they not only definitively separate themselves from the 1980s legacy of appropriation, but also place themselves in opposition to the use of style as a paean to some sort of "time-warp cult" or worse, as a kind of "zombie burlesque"33 parody. 30 Although perhaps German painter 32 The notion of "neo-modernism" was Tomma Abts is one, as she insists that her inspired by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh's potent abstractions appear sui generis on her canvases. identification of a neo-avant-garde published See Laura Hoptman, ed., Tomma Abts (New in October ("The Primary Colors for the Second York: Phaidon and New Museum, 2009). Time: A Paradigm Repetition of the Neo-Avant- 31 Kerstin Bratsch, quoted in Bratsch and Garde," October 37 [Summer 1986]: 41-52). Amy Sillman "Chromophilia," Mousse 29 In the spirit of Buchloh's takedown of second- (Summer 2011): 166. generation Dadaists, David Geers's critique of contemporary painters accuses them of "mimic[king] the formal moves of some modernist art." Geers, "Neo-Modern," October 139 (Winter 2012): Reynolds, Retromania, 299. Reynolds used these epithets to describe a show by eighties band the Cramps. 21

11 COROLLARY: ATEMPORAL PAINTING It is fair to ask, as a journalist did recently, "What attracts artists to painting at a time when digital technology offers seemingly limitless options with less arthistorical baggage?"34 The answer might be exactly the "art-historical baggage" that painting provides. Painting is traditionally (and perhaps literally) the platform on which the history of visual art in Western Europe and subsequently in the U.S. was built, then destroyed, and now argued about. It is a discursive medium,;s one that, over the twentieth century in particular, has been the site where forms and genres emerge and withdraw from the field with an almost tidal regularity. Lately-that is, in this new millennium-the painted surface has been the arena in which painting's traditions as well as its strategies are reinterpreted, and painting's more metaphysical high-stakes questions on such subjects as originality, subjectivity, and spiritual transcendence are, as a result, being tested. Painting's accumulated art-historical baggage-or its sense of "belatedness" 36 -is only one of several objections that have caused some critics over the past twenty years to identify painting as a "problem."37 Other objections include its "investment in permanence and virtuosity";s and, concomitantly, its obdurate objecthood. This last, which leaves the medium vulnerable to mere connoisseurship39 and careening inevitably towards commodification, has given rise to a provocative argument by the art historian David Joselit, who offers a work-around for this situation. By recasting contemporary painting as "essentially a broadcast medium," 40 Joselit transforms an individual painting from an object to a transmitter of information. Considered this way, a painting "cannot be reified" because it isn't something static but rather part of a "network."4 1 The notion that a painting-or at least the information it carries-is perpetually in motion 34 Julia Halperin, "Paint, canvas, action!," The Art Newspaper, October 18, 2013, canvas, action!/ Thomas Lawson, "Last Exit: Painting," Artforum (October 1981). Reprinted in Richard Hertz, ed., Theories of Contemporary Art (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985). Lawson writes: "Radical artists now are faced with a choice-despair, or the last exit: painting. The discursive nature of painting is persuasively useful, due to its characteristic of being a never-ending web of representations." (Hertz, 155.) 36 See Raphael Rubenstein, "Provisional relinquishing the defining of art exclusively to Painting," Art in America (May 2009): 129. the market and its trends." Rebentisch, in 37 See note 44. Alexander Garcia DUttmann, Yilmaz Dziewior, 38 Rubenstein, "Provisional Painting," 129. Michael Krebber, and Juliane Rebentisch, 39 Critic Juliane Rebentisch asserted "Conversation in Columns," in Yilnaz Dziewior, recently that "it has ever been the concern of ed., Formalismus. Mode me Kunst, Heute art criticism and art theory to liberate the (Formalism. Modern Art, Today) (Hamburg: discourse of art from the relativism of mere Kunstverein in Hamburg, 2004), 221. subjective judgments of taste and to provide 40 David Jose lit, "Signal Processing," criteria of aesthetic judgment in order to make Artforum (Summer 2011): 356. it publicly negotiable." She continues, "It seems 41 Joselit, "Painting Beside Itself," October to me particularly important to stick to this 130 (Fall 2009): task and not to seek refuge in private connoisseurship.. if we wish to avoid 22

12 is invigorating and more than apt to describe practices like that ofkerstin Bratsch, who translates the painterly mark into a variety of materials, or Murillo, whose canvases may be displayed in many different ways, ranging from spread on the floor like drop cloths to folded and stacked like remainders in a fabric store. However, rechristening an object as an activity is, in the end, a rhetorical magic trick. It doesn't make the obsolescent thingness of painting (its awkward but crucial relationship to the world of digital information4 2 notwithstanding) disappear. Nor does it sway many painters, unless they are those who are in the business of, as critic Johanna Burton put it, "keeping the death of painting alive."43 Those under discussion here are a more hopeful bunch who might echo the sentiment of painter Amy Sillman, who called out from the audience at a recent symposium where "the problem of painting" was continually referenced, "What's the problem? Painters don't see any problem! "44 This is not to say that a temporal painters treat their medium uncritically. For a younger artist like Murillo, the act of painting seems to have the portentousness of casting in bronze, and it has him veering off the stretcher to make analogies between paintings and drop cloths, rags, dish towels, and all manner of humbler textiles that have a useful rather than aesthetic purpose. This apparent insolence that masks respect is something he shares with Bratsch, who violates the aura of her paintings by stacking them atop one another or pinning them unprotected against a wall, and also with Connors, who has been known to build three-dimensional structures with his paintings. Josh Smith's mammoth production of works painted in an array oflanguages and Joe Bradley's Schmagoo paintings, sometimes composed of a single gesture, are both exercises in arrogance towards the medium, but, as it is with trash-talking fighters, the bluster of these artists seems clearly to be a way to psych themselves into being able to dominate the medium that they have no doubt is the main artistic event. "Everyone is an anti-painter at the beginning," Charline von Heyl has said, and her work has a rich vocabulary of painterly references that calls to mind both 42 A useful analogy is "steampunk;' an 43 Johanna Burton, "Rites of Silence: aesthetic created by science-fiction writers Johanna Burton on the Art of Wade Guyton," William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in their 1990 Artforum (Summer 2008): 366. novel The Difference Engine (New York: 44 "Painting Beyond Itself: The Medium Bantam Spectra, 1991). Steam punk describes in the Post-Medium Condition." Participants a way of living that combines the obsolete who cited "the problem of painting" included with the futuristic-steam-powered computers art historians Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and the and the like. critic Isabelle Graw. 23

13 the work of postwar abstractionists like Lucio Fontana45 and anti-painters like her near contemporary Michael Krebber, who once wrote that "art as material and tool is best suited to every kind of undertaking when it is hollow."4 6 But von Heyl's results are as different as can be from Krebber's arch painting in quotation marks. Simply put, von Heyl's paintings are not about painting as a strategy or a gesture; they are paintings, period. This truth holds for all the artists under discussion and renders irrelevant-at least for this group-any critically manufactured "problem" that the medium might present. REANIMATION "The zombie... stalk(s) a new cultural economy that is necessarily already no longer current; nor is it ever outdated, because it cancels cultural time measured in decades and centuries. " 4 7 The undead are the perfect embodiments of the atemporal. They have already been and gone but are still here. The metaphor of the zombie 48 -a resurrected body without a soul that feeds on other bodies-is useful: it evokes the voracious hunger for ideas and images from the past that, in some paintings today, are consumed, digested, and re-presented in guises that resemble their original forms, but are somehow changed. Although it is easy to see the zombie paradigm as pejorative, it also has a deep-seated appeal. In its variations, the idea of reanimating what was thought to be dead, or out of time, or the possibility of reliving something from the past, speaks to our core fantasies, which are drawn to heel by the inevitabilities not only of our cultural timeline, but also of our mortality. 45 Von Heyl titled a recent painting Concetto Spaziale after Fontana's best-known monochrome paintings, whose surfaces are articulated by a single slash in the canvas to reveal the wall on which the painting is hung. Notably, von Heyl's Concetto Spaziale is not a monochrome, nor does it include any sort of rupture to the canvas. It does, however, indicate multiple planes ofthe canvas surface through the superimposition of abstract motifs, which are curved in a manner that recalls the curvature of many of Fontana's slashes. 46 Michael Krebber in Duttmann, Dziewior, Krebber, and Rebentisch, "Conversation in Columns," Lars Bang Larsen, "Zombies of Immaterial Labor: The Modern Monster and the Death of Death," f-f/ux Journal (April 2010): The comparison of an element of culture to zombies has been a common trope over the past decade. Indeed, as this essay was being written, the critic and painter Walter Robinson published an article describing a phenomenon he calls "Zombie Formalism," which he defines as "a straightforward, reductive, essentialist method of making a painting... " It is "zombie" because it brings back to life the discarded aesthetics of Clement Greenberg, which he calls "a walking corpse" of an idea. None of the artists that Robinson mentions are in the present exhibition. Walter Robinson, "Flipping and the Rise of Zombie Formalism," Artspace.com, April 3, 2014, /contributors/the_rise_of_zombie_formalism 24

14 In his classic, Freudian-inflected study on artistic influence in poetry, Harold Bloom identifies six manners in which influence manifests itself. Apophrades, the Greek term for the "return of the dead," is, for Bloom, when influence manifests as if"the later poet himself had written the precursor's characteristic work." 4 9 This description banishes the image of the zombie's rotting corpse and replaces it with reanimation-a spirit from the past willfully conjured into existence. In contemporary painting, reanimation exists on the level of form, on the level of ideas, or as a mixture of both. Reanimators of form create painterly languages that resemble in method and manner that of their precursors, but they may or may not have different meanings in mind. Bloom calls this creative misreading of an older generation by a younger one "misprision,"so which describes the crucial difference between a "dead style hanging" and one alive on a wall. A clear example of creative misprision in reanimation can be seen in the manner in which the language of Abstract Expressionism and the European Informel appear in the work Michaela Eichwald, whose paintings feature emotional explosions of paint that seem thrown on rather than applied to the canvas. Eichwald is channeling the power of the grand expressionistic gesture, but to different ends than those of her postwar predecessors. Philip Guston memorably identified the central issue of Abstract Expressionism as "whether it's possible to create in our society at all," 51 emphasizing the notion that the big form can tackle the biggest human questions. Eichwald's painterly gestures can be big, but she has redirected the hurricane power of the storm of drips and brushstrokes so that it blows inward. Her dramatic gestural gambits never reach across an entire painted surface but are often aggregated near the canvas's center, where they create a kind of vortex; in other cases, her swaths and blobs of paint float detached in an empty atmosphere. In some paintings, Eichwald attaches bits of newspaper, snippets from magazines, or photographs to her painted surfaces. The collage elements encourage the viewer to scrutinize the painting up close, detail by detail. The effect is that even at a large scale, Eichwald's paintings seem to be anecdotal, maps of a local cosmos rather than a universal one. 49 Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, Ibid., Philip Guston, quoted in Raphael Rubinstein, "To Rest Lightly on the Art," Art in America (February 2012): 7. 25

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16 Michaela Eichwald Dienst am Alien (Ministering to the Alien), 2013 Acrylic, wax, lacquer, and tempera on pleather 56 o/,6' x 17' 4 'Y,e" (143.1 x 530 em) 27

17 Eichwald's compositions are emotional, expulsive, even violent, but they are also introspective and idiosyncratic in the extreme, which makes for a distinctive "like, but not like" relationship to postwar Abstract Expressionism. In her new series of easel-scale abstractions, American painter Julie Mehretu reanimates the language of the same generation of European and American painters, and although her results differ from Eichwald's, there is a similar transposition from grandiosity to intimacy that undoes received ideas of what Abstract Expressionism was, and can be. Over an almost twenty-year-long painting career, Mehretu has developed a distinct pictorial language that combines abstract directional vectors with schematic maps, building elevations, and handmade marks that are layered on often monumentally sized canvases. Mehretu's latest series of paintings are pure gestural abstractions using short, calligraphic brushstrokes in black paint on a gray ground. Although they retain the almost tectonic sense of stir and movement of her earlier works, they have swapped their sense of place for a sense of time, the duration taken to fill the canvas with marks. The more profound switch perhaps, though, is from an external mapping to an internal one. Mehretu has spoken of these works in relationship to automatic writing, and indeed they seem to channel mid-century calligraphic abstractions by artists like Michaux and Twombly, among others. But though she may follow the technique of these older artists, she achieves a result as distinct from theirs as one person's signature is from another. California artist Mary Weatherford is a reanimator of ideas rather than formal gestures, and her paintings belong in the particularly American history of the Western landscape. Weatherford has been making abstract landscapes for the better part of twenty years in a number of mediums, but she is best known for painting with Flashe, a kind of acrylic paint that is highly pigmented but also transparent. In a way that mimics gouache, Weatherford applies the Flashe in veil-like, watery pools across the canvas, layering colors to create depth but also a chromatic aura that gives her work atmosphere. About two years ago, Weatherford started to fasten brightly colored neon rods onto the surface of her paintings. They redouble the effect of the Flashe; with light rather than liquid, they create a glowing, colored atmosphere that is more dusk than dawn, more urban than rural. Weatherford has titled these paintings after the sites that inspired them: Bakersfield, California; Coney Island; and New York's Chinatown. These works exhibit an understanding of the ability of color to delineate the sort of infinite space found in Mark Rothko's 28

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19 "tectonic abstraction," a mode in which "broad fields of color meet at charged zones of heightened visual interest." 52 But Weatherford's abstract evocations ofhonkytonk nights also channel the spirit of another mid -century painter of the Western landscape, Clyfford Still. Still's vast, dry surfaces the color of desert sand, with shapes like jagged cliffs, are as abstract as Rothko's, but this did not stop Clement Greenberg from deeming them "Buckeye Paintings," 5 3 that is, cowboy painting for the atomic age. Still's ability to evoke the kitsch and grandeur of the Western landscape-in a way that didn't belie the influence of paint-by-number reproductions as well as the movies-is channeled through Weatherford's evocations of electric sunsets and carnival rides in the summer glare. Weatherford's neon paintings reanimate an idea that summons the specters ofrothko and Still, but her paintings fundamentally depart from these artists' non-objectivity. Rerouting the metaphysics of Color Field painting back to its actual source in nature, Weatherford's paintings are rooted in observable phenomena-early evenings in the desert, or neon-flecked nights in New York or Bakersfield. Weatherford's process is not dissimilar to that of the German-born artist Charline von Heyl, a painter who has described her recent works as inspired in part by the "tropes of feeling" expressed by painters who have come before her. Von Heyl has stated that the dead can live again through form. "Everything," she said recently, "exists as an image." 54 She brings this to bear in complex, multi-plane compositions in which abstract, representational, and quasi-representational onomatopoetic forms such as zigzags relate and disaggregate. Her references, she claims, are deliberately open; 5 5 nevertheless she conjures the existential Weltschmerz ofsartrean Europe with bold, Informel calligraphies surrounded by tenebrous, Wolsian lines layered atop biomorphic shapes redolent of the age of nuclear anxiety. Other works present a lexicon of sixties abstract vocabularies in their juxtaposition of keen-edged patterns that sit flatly on the canvas atop lavish painterly gestures. These composition-defining marks are sometimes accentuated by hard-edged geometries drawn in perspective that seem to float in a thin plane between the foreground and background. In other cases, this gathering of images of abstract forms (as opposed to mere abstractions) are joined by recurring representational 52 Joselit, "Signal Processing," 356. Joselit 54 Charline von Heyl, in conversation with is precising Hal Foster in this quotation. the author, Brooklyn, New York, September 10, 53 Clement Greenberg, "'American-Type' Painting [1955)." Reprinted in Greenberg, Art 55 Ibid. and Culture (Boston: Beacon, 1961),

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22 motifs-an eye with spiky eyelashes, or a female profile. Easily identifiable, these images are given the same weight as a gestural brushstroke, a pattern, or a geometric form. This equalizing of the figure, the gesture, the pattern, and the shape gives new meaning to von Heyl's declaration that "everything exists as image." It indicates not only that form can be resurrected through image, but also that the platform of painting may be the site where disparate forms spanning history might be reconciled and integrated within new compositions. Amy Sillman is comfortable, in her words, "squatting in [the] foreclosed real estate"s 6 of art history. Some of her paintings, by her own admission, might contain a hundred other paintings, 5 7 each one layered atop another to create a kind of archeology of styles and techniques that gives her work a "geological dimension" and, ultimately, "summon... the past inextricably in the present, the present as a frame for the past. Another instance of the simultaneity oftime." 58 She has mobilized many different painting methods, repurposing them in a series of paintings or even on the same canvas, without.regard for hierarchy or chronology.s9 These methods run from brushy, fat strokes, a la de Kooning, to delicate painted figurations recalling cartoon illustrations (these are indeed inspired by the artist's involvement with the making of cartoons, zines, and iphone animations). The undisputed queen of tangerine, lemon yellow, and a true and bruising purple that is often juxtaposed with a spring green, Sillman manipulates her singular color palette with informality and humor, the same qualities that guide her compositions. There is nothing unserious, or even provisional, about Sillman's work, but there is a certain imprecision or awkwardness that reads unmistakably as human, even in her most abstract paintings. The grid-albeit drawn by hand, wonky, and ungeometric-is almost the last compositional apparition one might expect to see in a Sillman painting, and the artist herself was surprised to realize she was using it. "That looks like modern art even though I didn't mean it," she reportedly said to herself when she looked at her first "grid painting." 60 Sillman is, however, as noted before, a conscious, serial reanimator who utilizes multiple styles and methods. She likely conjured the grid because she needed it not to bring repetition and chronological order to paintings 56 Amy Sillman, in conversation with the author, Brooklyn, New York, February 21, Ibid. 58 Helen Molesworth, "Amy Sillman: Look, Touch, Embrace;' in Molesworth, ed., Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two (New York and Boston: Prestel and ICA Boston, 2014), It has been observed that in Sillman's oeuvre "chronology is a mere convenience, a way of grouping similar problems together rather than a structure of improvement or maturation." Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, "The Inner Life of Painting," in Molesworth, Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two, Sillman, in conversation with the author, Brooklyn, New York, February 21,

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24 that actively contradict such notions, but to organize the planar surfaces of her pictures so that their disparate elements may be read simultaneously in time and space. This desire for what one art historian has called "all at onceness" 61 is particularly clear in a group of recent paintings that the artist refers to as "stilllifes," which feature brightly colored, often outlined planes, like a series of overlapping Japanese screens. Some are interrupted by boldly drawn recognizable objects, such as a bottle or an ewer. In others, these planes of color delineate space in a quasi-architectonic manner that conjures windows and doors. With these works, we are clearly in a Cubist environment but one informed as much by digital animation as by the precedent of early modernism; both offer strategies of creating simultaneity. Sillman does not privilege one source over another 62 but instead allows us to connect with both on the chronologically neutral arena of her canvases. The result is that we can look at Sillman's stilllifes with both recognition and surprise. Like the artist herself, who looked at one of her new paintings recently, and gasped, "Oh wow! I made a Picasso! " 6 3 REENACTMENT In an article inartforum titled "The Year in 'Re-'," an amusing list of words beginning with the prefix "re" which serve to sketch the strangely retro-maniacal year in culture that was 2013, the authors posit that to understand history in our present day one must reenact it. Quoting the historian R. G. Collingwood, they write, "History is continually rewritten in relation to the current historian's interests and situations." 6 4 Reenactment is another strategy under the rubric of zombie painting, distinct from reanimation in that its crucial element is that it is performative. Though both reanimators and reenactors raise the dead, it is only the latter who don another's art like a skin, allowing their own gestures to propel a hollow body to life Molesworth, "Amy Sillman: Look, Touch, 64 R. G. Collingwood, cited in Martha Embrace," 45. Buskirk, Amelia Jones, and Caroline A. Jones, 62 Sillman has been known to exhibit her "The Year in 'Re-,"' Artforum (December 2013): iphone animation on screens adjacent to her paintings, an iconoclastic choice, as painters = usually do not want their static works juxta- 65 This notion of "wearing the art of posed with moving images. another" is David Jose lit's, which he uses to 63 Sillman, in conversation with the author, describe the work of Wade Guyton and R. H. Brooklyn, New York, February 21, Ouaytman. He calls this "travesty." See Jose lit, "Painting Travesty," in Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders, eds., Whitney Biennia/2012 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2012),

25 Like drag, reenactment aims to be close to the iteration on which it is based but not identical to it. As Collingwood pointed out, current "interests and situations" not only keep the reenactment from being a mere copy, but also open it to additional meanings and interpretations. Artist reenactors like Rashid Johnson, Dianna Molzan, and Matt Connors display a depth of knowledge of postwar abstract painting movements that sails far beyond mere academic interest. They are as much fans as scholars, at once precise in the details of their re-performance and conscious that the context in which they reenact irrevocably makes the reenactment something else. But context is not the only element that separates the reenactment from the past gesture. Like the expressive eyes of an actor behind a mask, evidence of the reenactor's passion is always present in his or her paintings. By removing the "fourth wall" between the painting and the observer, the zeal of the artist can be experienced, which not only inoculates the artwork from accusations of parodying its source, but creates a situation in which the reenactment and the artist's process of reenacting are experienced simultaneously. Rashid Johnson's more than one hundred gestural abstractions made by scoring thick grounds made from African "black soap" are collectively entitled Cosmic Slop. They are at the center of an oeuvre dominated by photography and sculpture assemblages that feature found objects reflective of the African American cultural experience during the eighties and nineties. The Cosmic Slop paintings are too numerous to be an aberration or a detour but too consistent and strongwilled in their technique to be a parody. Johnson, an admirer and self-taught historian of the work of abstract painters active in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, has averred that the Cosmic Slop paintings are abstractions in the vein of, and in homage to, precursors including Jackson Pollock and Sam Gilliam. The use of black soap as a medium connects these works to the rest of Johnson's oeuvre, but, more importantly, it also represents a deliberate anachronism that separates his reenactment from a mere copy 66 or, for that matter, from a reanimation of similar sources, as is also true of works by Eichwald or Mehretu. The use of this culturally charged material does not distract the viewer who follows the hypnotic rhythm of Johnson's 66 Rashid Johnson's reenactment of the Abstract Expressionist mark on his black soap grounds accomplishes a feat that is not unrelated to Laura Owens's creation of a gestural brushstroke on a computer plotter, or Josh Smith's use of a Xerox machine to reprint abstractions, or Michael Williams's use of a digital print of a drawing as his base layer of images. All take the opportunity to reprise historical form through contemporary means, deliberately blurring temporal lines. 36

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