Painting (still) is a group exhibtion at Elba Benitez Gallery in Madrid curated by Ignasi Aballí (Barcelona 1958) in my mind one of the most interesting artists working on the Spanish scene. It’s a very varied group of artists: Bernard Frize, On Kawara, Raoul de Keyser, Jonathan Monk, Günter Umberg, Christopher Wool, Rèmy Zaugg, who according to Aballí can be contextualised (quoting Catherine Millet) by the need "to be aware of the iconoclastic movements that have succeeded one another over the last hundred years, and not act as though they never existed” and that “the practice of painting (today) demands having exhaustive knowledge, the more the better, about the artistic developments in the 20th century and acting in consequence”. While I agree with this in principal, it is not an entirely new argument and in my opinion runs the risk of being overly deterministic. However, the selected artists have very different positions and seem to offer a more open range of possibilities that transcends the conceptual premise for the show. Raoul de Keyser is of undeniable importance in this context even though the artist uses the most traditional strategies in picture making compared to the more conceptual positions of say On kawara or Jonathan Monk. Ultimately, it’s the specific uniqueness of each artist’s oeuvre that matters and the importance of overriding deterministic views. While the historical prerogative is always there, what of the importance of nature (albeit in crisis), pain and pleasure? to cite a few other motivations.The infinitely variable factors of place, moment, economics, class, personality, knowledge, coincidence, light, weather…in other words the intricately specific conditions and experiences of being in the world can all be forces which shift or dislodge an artist’s work outside of expectations, even the expectations of the artist him/herself!
Conceptualism is not the only form of thinking or intelligence in art. Thinking in art also requires fluidity in the most direct sense, Bernard Frize is a wonderful example of this. Aballí is right to mention that there is still a lot of painting around but very little which offers anything of worth, evidence that it is (increasingly) an enormous challenge to make good paintings.