In case you were unaware, there’s been a perceived threat to painting for more than a century now – since the birth of photography and film, through the emergence of conceptual art and performance art in the 1960s, to installation art and, more recently, internet art. Critics haven’t helped with their proclamations of poor old painting’s demise. So it warmed the cockles of my 'art to walk into this museum-scale show featuring 35 internationally renowned artists under one roof – all gallantly coming to the maligned medium’s rescue.
Mark Francis, the curator of this show, has cleverly used painting’s supposed death to create an ode to the age-old process of applying paint to canvas. All the works seem to cry ‘Long Live Painting,’ some silently, some raucously. There are the usual suspects like Cy Twombly, some young guns like Nate Lowman and Wade Guyton and a few surprises like Yves Klein, represented by an uncharacteristic ‘Untitled Fire-Colour Painting’, 1962.
Abstraction features heavily. Sombre colour-ground experimentations by Richard Serra and Gerhard Richter are juxtaposed with Robert Rauschenberg’s sublimely curious ‘White Painting (Two Panel)’ (1951), a diptych of two canvases painted entirely white which paradoxically appear to represent a primed canvas waiting to be painted. There are fun, pop art takes, like Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bar’, (1968), which represents the back of a canvas, and apparent pisstakes, like Andy Warhol’s mischievously humorous ‘Oxidation’, 1978 which was made by weeing directly on to a copper sheet.
A lesson in what painting was, is and can be, the show ripples along the gallery walls with such vitality that it makes you wonder where the cynicism came from in the first place. The medium may have been challenged on numerous occasions, but this exemplary exhibition reminds us that it still has a voice. The show is far from over.