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Date: 21 Nov 2010
Time: 20:17:22 -0600
Well look if you can’t follow the ‘significance’ of Painting and Decoration as a style, after all that, there’s not much point trying to spell it out any clearer. Whatever aspect you imagine interested Polke about the use of patterned fabrics as supports, does not alter the fact that set beside Pop Art, where various common print sources and formats are sampled for instance variation, it is just this kind of imagery printed directly onto fabrics, that becomes the salient feature. If Polke were just interested in their cheapness, why would he bother stretching and framing them like paintings? That would only make them more expensive. The fabrics ‘cheapness’ could as easily be displayed in a clear wrapper with the price and quantity label still on. The point of making them into pictures is to draw attention to the repeating imagery (abstract or figurative) and EXTENT – the number of repetitions to the pattern as framed - then governs how it is taken as a ‘painting’ (work of sole instance) as opposed to print (multiple instances). This is a subtle but crucial point. Think carefully about it. Consider the parallels between say a Warhol and a Stella or Martin in this light…. Now for Polke, it is both to pace Warhol from way back in Germany, and drastically broaden the project. Score 1 for the outsider. And it is precisely the issue of pattern in this sense that arises for P&D painters in the early 70s like Kushner, Zakanitch, Kozloff, Shapiro and Samaras, who are usually relegated to the feminist ghetto rather than consider the formal issues. But the formal issues are where all of these artists start! Their roots are in Minimalism and like Stella, they track basic symmetries or modules to ancient or traditional motifs (Stella goes for Persian and Assyrian sources by the late 60s) and then steadily ‘maximise’ the complexity and figuration there. Kozloff is amongst the first at this. Also check out Valerie Jaudon, who, although an American, I seem to remember studied at The Central, I think, not long before she made her debut. She pretty much sticks with Islamic and medieval sources. But setting pattern to one side, are printed fabrics necessarily a ‘capitalist’ commodity? Are they realistic? And does their cheapness make them abject? I reject all three claims. Printed fabrics go back long before capitalism, exist in remote nomadic and agrarian cultures, in themselves, do not strictly denote capitalism. Does their mass-production degrade or make them abject in some way? It certainly makes them plentiful and common-place and easy to take for granted or overlook. But that’s not quite the same thing as abject. Is there something especially miserable about storks or flamingos rendered in iridescent colours on black velvet? Only if we think they should be doing something more than briefly amusing the easily amused. They can hardly be considered as more than a passing fancy, and to want fancies to never be merely passing is to live in a prison of one’s own making. And can such fancies ever aspire to be compellingly realistic? Surely not – this would be to rob them of their fun and allure. So I don’t see Polke’s choice of motifs or materials as particularly abject, capitalist or realist. More accurately, I think, as with Pop Art generally, it is their banal, over-familiar status that gives them surprising edge when considered as ‘paintings’ or pictures. There is always the tension between whether the fabrics or print sources drag down the formal issues, make painting itself abject, or whether painting rescues or elevates such humble material by isolating fundamental verities to their style. And in this sense we agree the paintings transcend - challenge themselves with difficult or distant content but prove themselves able to reveal how elementary formal issues apply, even to the slight or frivolous. This applies equally to Richter’s blurred photographic paintings. As for that old Situationist chestnut of The Spectacle, and Buchloh’s feeble riff on it – predictably, I reject that as well. But yeah The White Cube sucks, no question.