The original SoHo location of The Painting Center
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Has the art of painting become marginalized to the extent that it requires its own support group? Arguments about the end of painting aside, the conceptualism dominating the New York art scene has even the most hardened art-theorists weary. It comes as little surprise, then, that a group of painters and like-minded individuals have founded The Painting Center (TPC). Taking “the position that . . . painting is visual, not literary, and . . . is vitally important,” TPC sees itself as an “alternative to the homogenizing gallery scene.” It’s ironic, then, that this “alternative” held its inaugural exhibition at the beginning of a season that would largely be devoted to painting.
The exhibition itself was a mixed bag. With forty-nine different artists, how could it not be? If the organizers could be faulted for favoring artists whose notion of authenticity correlates to an excess of paint, they can be credited with conveying a sense of common purpose. The was fine work on display by Katherine Bradford, Jake Berthot, Nancy Flanagan and Paul Resika. Thomas Nozkowski’s Untitled–with its pulsing biomorphic forms and ambient light–confirmed that not only he one of our quirkiest painters, he’s also one of our best. Graham Nickson’s Tern (Diptych) (1984-86) was the centerpiece of the exhibition by virtue of its deft paint handling and crisp drawing: it was also one of the few paintings steeped in the atelier tradition.
It would be easy to dismiss TPC as a knee-jerk reaction against art world fashion. There is a genuine need to address the needs of contemporary painting and its audience. Serious painting continues, of course, whether or not it is validated by the marketplace. For TPC to establish itself as a vital presence it will have to do more than encourage artists under the rubric of “real art”. It must instigate a critically based dialogue that will foster more and, hopefully, better painting. In a culture that places a premium on novelty, the organizers of TPC have their work cut out for them.
© 1994 Mario Naves
A version of this article originally appeared in the January 1994 issue of New Art Examiner.