Expulsion: Painting as Proxy Act and Action
One can be expelled for plagiarism, for breaking rules, for unusual behavior and for nearly anything that the reigning authorities find contemptible. In the art world this could be critics, institutions, or the general public. Even painting itself became an object of contempt during the 60s and 70s when it was largely declared to be a "dead" medium. Its most recent rap on the knuckles came in the wake of zombie formalism, when the artworld decided that a certain kind of made-to-order, or made-too-easily formalism, came to prominence in the marketplace almost overnight due to the precarious practice of "art-flipping" --- something that was a highly speculative practice at best. This school of "drop-cloth" abstraction was quickly expelled from any place of enduring relevance in what was the largest quantifiable loss of auction house value in the early 21st century. It constituted nothing short of a radical expulsion of value, form, and gesture (mis)taken for content.
Nevertheless, painting has continued on in different states, re-inventing itself with each new decade, usually under the guise of so many “returns”, be it under the moniker of "a return to figuration", "a return of the real", "a return of beauty", etc. Or, sometimes painting sneaks into the limelight through the auspicious use of so many neo’s, such as neo-dada, neo-expressionism, neo-geo, etc. But what continues to define painting beyond these various programs and strategies is the many different ways that it can be both an object by proxy, creating other realities into which the imagination can venture, or that it's surfaces can rely on creating an impact on the viewer through acts or actions, placing a decided emphasis on paintings tactile and affective qualities in order to elicit a response. It goes without saying that much of the best painting today and historically, is often some amalgam of these two approaches.
Nevertheless, it is between these two poles that the debate about painting --- both figurative and abstract --- has continued on for more than a century, with one side favoring the optical qualities of the medium while other side favors painting's potential to act on our senses as a uniquely haptic experience. For most of the 20th century, being in one camp or the other could result in being expelled from the reigning zeitgeist. The figures that worked in the inbetween spaces however, like Phillip Guston, Joan Brown and Lydia Benglis, all ran the risk of having their career run out of town by the critics at one time or another, or simply exiled from relevance and cannoization forever. It's no exaggeration to say that, at certian times in the past, there have been artists who found themselves living under the constant threat of expulsion because of a dramatic shift in content or method.
Eventually this ethos broke however, and painting was expelled from the dictates of "high modernism" and the equally critical era of "high theory" that punctuated the end of postmodernism. Painting today continues to flourish by way of its alliance to a kind of permanent disobedience. In fact, a short list of expulsions is the only thing that gives us a sense of the space of painting's changing commitments: first, painting was expelled from "standard formats" at the end of modernism; than it was thrown out from "the wall" during much of postmodernism, often spilling out onto the flooring and pushing up against institutional confines; with the passing of time, painting even ventured further away from purely painterly qualities vis-a-via the many sculptural propositions that were incorporated into painting practices during late postmodernism; and finally, painting was expelled from the strict confines of "medium specificity" to freely mix with other genres; and so painting began to venture out into the world at large through site-specific projects, hyper-textual references, and cross-disciplinary practices during the contemporary period, i.e., the era of high pluralism. This is the short history of paintings violations, infractions, and revolutions, all of which have no implicit teleology save a vast and growing diversity of memes and themes.
As a result of this short genealogy of painting in the expanded field, we can say that painting takes its place in the world as an object of emblematic identifications unknown. It is that sublime endeavor which stopped serving the academy so long ago that it barley knows how to identify with authority, despite what many critics might have you believe. Painting no longer courts the term “high art” anymore than its competing genres, and it is rarely accompanied by manifesto’s, the establishment of new ism’s, or even a foundational sense of the supposed limits of the medium. If anything, painting is now a thoroughly delimited object of inquiry.
Another way of saying the same thing is that painting has finally been thrown out of the artworld so many times, that its status might best be described as a series of repeated “expulsions” from different critical frameworks and epistemes, and it might be that this rather vexed state of affairs is actually what gives painting an enduring purchase in the present. Thus, the works on display in Expulsion: Painting as Proxy Act and Action are not visual expositions in any traditional sense, but rather, they play with the notion of an "aesthetic of explusion" that might best be defined as what circumscribes the ever expanding world of sense-making after paintings many misadventures in 19th and 20th centuries.
Artists in the Show: Michael Diaz, Chris Kuhn, Caroline Estelle, Ryan Eckert, Megan Johnson, Thomas Knight, Larry Madrigal, Brandi Read, Chloe Torri, Mary Williams, Lester Monzon, Rema Ghuloum, Sarah Awad and Jacob Melchi.