The dialogue that characterised the last few weeks has been about art and theory: speaking about how one affects the other; and predicting, and shaping, how those affects come into play. Catapulted into motion by events before this exhibition (attending an exhibition of women abstract expressionists) and coming to a head while installing (talking about whether to arrange the exhibition in regards to the conversations it might provoke), a potential conclusion segued into being on the morning of the opening, when a [art theory] book arrived in the mail: Clement Greenberg Between the Lines by Thierry de Duve.
The miniature paintings installed at Plǝt- for Jorge’s exhibition, Pitiminí, were brought from Spain in a folder containing thirty-odd potential candidates. Nine were selected and installed for the exhibition and, the following day, seven more were selected to hand to regular patrons: intended for them to engage with from the comfort of their homes. The selection was made minutes before the opening, on the kitchen counter between making coffee and boiling water. Therefore, as guests began to arrive, in a quick solution to protect the paintings, the seven small canvases were quickly placed between the pages of the newly arrived book.
The opening ran its course: people meandered in and out as always, some talking about the work, others not. A surprising talk about Picasso and Banksy came into play, becoming a welcome reminder of how these art stars are often the artists, when initially drifting into to the art conversation. And so on: we spoke about miniatures and framing, and how their pertaining to bigger pictures made them expand across the walls; we spoke about the sole surrealist work –a tiny copy of an Alberto Savinio- becoming the key that opened the rest of the exhibition. The logic behind this last thought was that the process of miniaturisation –in combination with its surreal content- had made this painting abstract, which was an anomaly in relation to the other images. While puzzlement might have led our visitors to observe it closer to the work, it also drew their eyes to observe the material: bringing their attention to the image/material relation. Which is then amusing when thinking back to the discussion about Picasso who, due to his work with abstraction, is repeatedly recognised as one of the original instigators of that very discussion. Making me think that perhaps we were having our own, miniature version of art history condensed into this opening.
In light of the above proposition, the evening then included a healthy dose of art history clichés: paint, portraits, female nudes; male painters, female curators and writers; white cube, room text; opening and after-opening meal; (sale?); new faces, friends acquainted, promises made. And then –food eaten; alcohol drunken- I cycled back home to my living room to observe the works. A new cliché: the one where I sit down and write. Plǝt- has become an ever-familiar environment from which I can observe and draw (hopefully ever-more nuanced) thoughts about the work. And as I sat down to write some notes about the opening, Clement Greenberg Between the Lines caught my eye. However, it was not the cover, but rather the small, wedge-shaped gap between its pages that caught my attention –signalling to me that there was something between them. And as I picked it up I realised it was, of course, the seven soon-to-be distributed paintings.
Its perhaps too easy and straightforward, but the idea that these pages –on which one art theorist unpacks the theories of another– were protecting these paintings [from spills, slips, cracks, bends, general absent-mindedness] left me heartened. Was that not what art theories set out to do? Mark out protected areas for the works that they address? Giving them the hard, protective cover needed so that they may survive out in that open [critical] sea?
The battle of the art theorist is always for the art. If not in collaboration with the artist –such as Pollock and Greenberg- then in making space for the under-represented –such as with art-related feminism. But despite the motion ranging from panegyrical to critical, the action is still the same: creating a protective space for those artists and artworks that the theorist believes are worthy of attention.
Which then makes me smile when looking at the name on this book and the paintings it’s protecting: Clement Greenburg protecting tiny, figurative pictures. Nothing could be further from his own intentions. And yet here he is, in 2019, protecting them perfectly well.