As David Carrier noted in his 1985 essay Suspicious Art, Unsuspecting Texts (Arts Magazine, November 1985), Lawsons argument leads a little too conveniently to a solution found in art like that which Lawson himself produced. (Last Exit: Painting appeared in Artforum with reproductions of paintings by Salle, Lawson, Walter Robinson, Troy Brauntuch and Jack Goldstein, suggesting the range of relevant painting to be quite narrow, yet to also include Lawson.) To be fair, of course, Lawsons writings and his work both came out of what he believed painting should be and do, as well as the historical position painting was in. To that end, his 1981 painting Dont Hit Her Again, an agreeably sized canvas in monochromes that goes almost abstract while clearly revealing the face of a child with a black eye, seems iconic of that moment in painting.
That moment is still very much with us. Nowhere has it been more evident than in two recent exhibitions, both in Los Angeles: Jack Goldstein: Paintings from the 1980s, organized by Julie Joyce at the Luckman Gallery, California State University Los Angeles, and The Undiscovered Country, organized by Russell Ferguson for the Hammer Museum at UCLA. To be clear, neither of these was an exhibition about the death of painting or a crisis in painting, but both shows resonated withand showed the reverberations ofthe discourse of paintings implied death or crisis. Initiating a wave of interest that has only accelerated since his suicide in 2003, Goldsteinwho stopped making work and disappeared from the art scene in the early ninetiesresurfaced in the new millennium, exhibiting some of his work through Brian Butler at 1301PE Gallery in Los Angeles. The 2002 exhibition of his paintings at CSULA was a punctuating momentan incredible visual postscript to the writings of Crimp and Lawson. In that show, one could see that Goldsteins paintings did what Crimp wanted art to do, pulled off what Lawson believed painting could pull off and, equally important, they looked like they could have been made yesterday.
Everyone quibbles about inclusions in group exhibitionsand everyone did so regarding The Undiscovered Countrybut Goldstein was the only painter I thought really was missing. A strange echo of New Image Painting, the exhibition explored representational painting from the 60s onward and specifically tried to address paintings place in a post-photographic, post-abstract field, thus inevitably rubbing against some of the anxieties involved in the death of painting discourse. It brought together works from the likes of John Baldessari, Vija Celmins, Philip Guston, Neil Jenny, Gerhard Richter, Richard Hamilton, Thomas Lawson and Richard Princeall artists who through their work and painted representations have dealt, in different ways, with questions about what painting should and could dohung with younger artists like Luc Tuymans, Enoc Perez, Kirsten Everberg and Laura Owens.
Among the assorted possibilities it raised, the exhibition confirmed that (1) painting had been capable of what Crimp considered impossible well before he made such a declaration and that (2) in the wake of the surge from the seventies through the eightiesin what really is an older, ongoing discourse of the crisis of paintinga younger generation of painters has emerged bearing the mark of a climate informed by the likes of both Crimp, with his naysaying, and Lawson, with his strained boosterism.
The product of this generation is that of artists who came of age amidst both the pressures and permissions imposed by the emergence and subsequent dominance of a culture of critique within the field of contemporary art. This critique, thrust negatively by Crimp and somewhat more positively by Lawson into the field of painting, yielded results, which are not all Lawsonesque in appearance. In fact, they reflect the full breadth of pluralism that has come to define contemporary painting, from the sort of edgy, painterly representation exemplified by Tomory Dodge to the odd mlange of style and reference offered by the likes of Anton Henning and Richard Hawkins; from the self-conscious and self-effacing abstraction of Pia Fries to the color-field graffiti of Katharina Grosse and the new-and-improved Neo-expressionism of Cecily Brown; from the hyper-fauvism of Daniel Richter to the recent, quasi-abstract text paintings of Monique Prieto. As David Joselit, riffing on the sentiment of Yve-Alain Bois 1986 essay Painting: The Task of Mourning, commented in a roundtable on paintings death published in Artforums March 2003 issue, the death of painting might more have been a case of the end of one game of painting, played by specific rules, and the emergence of a new game of painting with new rules. These artists indeed seem to be working with an awareness of a changed or changing set of rules of the game.
As Crimp wrote of the term postmodernism in Pictures, to be meaningful the term needs to do more than signal chronology; it needs to signal a change. With such a demand for useful terminology in mind, it seems reasonable to refer to much of our current painting not in terms of post-death or post-crisis but, in consideration of the influence it shows and the role it assumes via such varied forms, as post-critique.
By Christopher Miles