X Dimensions: Contemporary Painting in Hi-Relief
While the history of painting has largely been about creating a sense of three dimensionality on a 2-D surface, today many artist are making works that reflect a greatly expanded sense of space which includes the integration of sculptural elements and other interventions that go off the wall, onto the floor and out into the surrounding environment. This shift in how we think about painting emerged from any number of movements including Post-Painterly abstraction, Neo-concretism, Surface + Support, Eccentric abstraction, Minimalism and Feminism. The continuing influence of the artists associated with these movements has allowed a new vocabulary to emerge around painting in the expanded field that includes the notion of blobs, skins and folds as much as process, parametrics and ever-expanding perimeters.
The three major “turns” that lead to the rise of Dimensional Painting emerged in the 60s and 70s from a shift in art criticism, curatorial theory and artistic practice. The first of these included the rejection of Greenbergianism which defended flatness as not just as one quality amongst others, but as the quintessential quality behind all two-dimensional art. This was challenged by Harold Rosenberg, Michael Fried and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe in any number of ways, but the most important contributions from these three critics highlighted the fact that painting was an arena in which to act, a theatrical object par excellence and it had always already been a many sided object since at least the birth of easel painting. This shift away from flatness didn’t represent a new series of dictums or directives for painting however, but it created an opening onto new horizons of experience and exploration.
The second major figure in the valorization of Dimensional Painting was the critic and curator, Lucy Lippard, who’s exhibition Eccentric Abstraction not only defended a new type of abstraction that engaged with an expanded sense of depth, texture and materiality, but included the use of non-traditional materials of every imaginable kind. This ability to think abstraction beyond those items that were specific to the history of the medium had an enduring influence on postmodern painting that continues to be felt up to the present day. Beyond the critics and curators who valorized a wide variety of Dimensional Painting, there were the artists like Frank Stella, Linda Benglis, Judy Pfaff and many others who transformed the medium in ways we could have never imagined. Taken together, all of these figures helped to open the door for subsequent generations to adopt polyvalent models of making in the twenty-first century.
The painters in this survey continue to build on these insights by radicalizing the means and themes behind Dimensional Painting, but they have also introduced a new series of concerns and contradictions into the field of visibility. Whether this is through the construction of different grounds and substrates, diverse conceptual and contrapunctual acts or the development of new vocabularies of affect and encounter, they are all engaged in enlarging the definition of what painting can be. Their work speaks not to the diatribes of essentialism, purity or the truth to materials, but to the unlimited capacity of materials to signify. In this way, the works in X Dimensions: Contemporary Painting in Hi-Relief, defy our expectations by resisting any set of traditional conventions, ultimately returning a weighty sense of presence to painting through the use of paradox and parity unbound.