Ivanovs at "NO PAINTING" group exhibition: Tallinn, Estonia, year 2005

Everywhere we go we can see signs like “No Photos!”, but has anyone ever seen a sign saying “No Painting!”? (Peeter Linnap)

Ritums Ivanov from the series Beauty with the Trademark 2004-2005

Group exhibition NO PAINTING artists: 

Daniele Galliano (ITA), Ritums Ivanovs (LAT), Davide LaRocca (ITA), Matts Leiderstamm (SWE), Jani Leinonen (FIN), Ylva Ogland (SWE), Tõnis Saadoja (EST), Sophia Schama (GER), John Smith (EST), Mari Sunna (FIN/GBR) 

Curator: Anders Härm 

Exhibition design: Ando Keskküla

The position of painting in the field of contemporary art has been complicated for over forty years.  Since the Sixties, the radically disposed art world has had difficulties in coming to grips with painting.  It has been termed too “arty”, too commercial, too dead, too conservative, too individualistic, not political, not social, too slow... In other words, it has always had too much or too little of something. With the transformation of abstract expressionism into a weapon of the Cold War—as a political messenger for Western “freedom”—and the simultaneous growth of conceptual art, minimal art, performance and video art, painting started to slip from the art world’s focus. 

A little excitement with postmodernism at the end of the Seventies and beginning of the Eighties didn’t change much. We could say that there is one place—namely in the art world—where the sign “No Painting!” has been displayed for quite some time. Recently we have started hearing more about the return of painting, and we must admit that these stories are not totally unfounded. Indeed, many entirely painted canvases have started appearing at contemporary art exhibits.  

At the last Venice Biennial, the chief curator, Francesco Bonami, organized an overview exhibit,   “Pittura/Painting: From Rauschenberg to Murakami 1963-2004”. The Italian new art exhibit, “Italian Factory: La Nuova Scena Artistica Italiana” during the Biennial focused on painting, and painters were also involved in several curator projects at the Arsenale. One of the premiere exhibits at the Villa Manin was an exhibit of new Italian painting, and in France recently, an exhibit of Finnish contemporary art, “Fresh Paint” took place, in which painters were in the majority as the title suggests.  In Estonia recently we have also seen “national pavilions”, like the Polish and Lithuanian art exhibits at the Rotermann Salt Storage, include many painters, etc.  

But due to this euphoria, a significant aspect has been overlooked.  Namely, we have not asked ourselves very frequently, what kind of painting has been displayed at these exhibits?  We cannot allege that painting had ever made “a comeback” as such. After the Sixties, it has entered the art world’s focus when it was capable of being “in tune” with the world. The phenomenon of hyperrealism, Neue Wilden or “bad painting” consists of the fact that they were capable of articulating or reflecting certain tendencies, which were important to the culture at the time. So the question has always been in the image in contrast to modernist and romantic picturesque values. 

And at this moment, the situation is again such that a certain portion of painters, and the author positions possessed by artists who are using painting, demonstrate some life and are sending significant signals in the cultural field. This is not totally self-sufficient art, in which the only reference point is the painter’s “singular and unique” personality, but art, which is able to articulate something more. Just as Francesco Bonami said in the foreword to the “Pittura/Painting” exhibit, “paintings are no longer just paintings, but anthropological, social and political statements.” 

To generalize, we could say that the central question in art since the Sixties has been “how to, in one way or another, touch the real?” How to create connections with the world?  If the modernist battle in art was waged in the name of infallible representation, in the name of genuine art, then the post-modernist battle, if we can call it such, has been waged over the ways to relate to reality. For reasons that are quite clear—an indexical relationship with reality—other media such as photography and video have been more effective in this field. And the belief that mass media—the use of media of Masters of the Real is more effective—it is hard to dispel. But the formation of the reality industry has pulled the rug out from under radical art.  

Many important “dynamic and mobile” radical art strategies and methods are commercialized. Instead of reconquering everyday life, we now have an everyday life industry. And since this is not the first time in art history that this has happened, then it seems Alexander Brener’s aphoristic statement: “The master’s tools cannot destroy the master’s house”, has turned out to be true in the end. Just accusing painting of an inability to stand up for itself is no longer relevant. At the same time, one can apparently argue that the fact that painting is reaching the interest center of art world again is up to some extent related to the conquest of the mainstream media by the reality industry. 

Just like every medium, a certain cultural burden and rhetoric for speaking about it accompanies painting. Painting - the archetype of art - maybe more glaringly than others. But it generally seems that the interior of the artist’s toolbox is formed by all the battles over styles and methods in modernism, which have finally just become resources. Painting has overcome its historical burden, and in some ways, we are back at the beginning, and painting has again become just a medium, no worse or better than the rest.

In his exhibit foreword, Francesco Bonami creates a contrast between the concepts of Pittura and Painting, and his preference falls to the latter, as if to a concept with a wider meaning. Although it seems strange to argue with an Italian, but I believe that the Italian-language pittura is much more appropriate since this means both picture and painting.  In English, the concepts of Painting and Picture have somewhat different connotations; the overlapping that exists in Italian is missing. In the case of contemporary painting, it is important that we can calmly place painted pictures next to photographs and videos.  This does not exclude the possibility that the artist might deal with some specific connotative problem of painting. 

All ten of the artists participating in this exhibition work somewhere between painting and picture, although their methods may be quite different. The point of departure for this exhibit is to find different painting-based author positions in the field of contemporary art, but not to create an exhibit of paintings. No Painting! 

Here artistic creation is not subordinated to a comprehensive and totalizing conception, but rather a relatively wide space has been provided for the artists to draw their personal systems in detail.  All the artists are represented with series of works or conceptual projects as opposed to the “single picture cult” often encountered in painting. The belief that one painting can represent “the entire universe” is definitely something that belongs to the past.  The exhibition allows the artists’ personal methods, worldview and portrayal systems to be brought forth and thereby also their alternative points of view about the status of things as the mainstream media produces it. 

Text by Anders Härm

Source: Tallinna Kunstihoone

Ritums Ivanovs in Eva Poll Gallery
Ritums paintings in Swedbank modern art collection