The support is the subject

Supports/Surfaces is the name of an exhibition at Canada, a gallery in New York’s lower east side. This work brings to light an interesting movement that originated in France in the 1970’s. Artists in the Supports/Surfaces group questioned the support on which paintings were made, as well as the dilemma of how that supporting structure could be deconstructed, disassembled, or ‘de-rectangularized’, and still remain a painting.

An excellent historical overview of the Supports/Surfaces movement can be found on the ArtCritical blog: Painting Undone. This writing by Raphael Rubenstein was done on the occasion of a 2004 exhibition in France of the Supports/Surfaces artists. A 2011 exhibition in Paris, as well a description of the movement, is written about here: Supports/Surfaces: The Last Avant Garde. Mike Finch also offers a write-up that includes a review of a 1998 exhibition. He includes a brief commentary about contemporary artists such as Jessica Stockholder and Polly Apfelbaum who address the idea of painting moving off the wall and into the room and floor. And if you aren’t familiar with Sharon Butler’s blog, Two Coats of Paint, this would be a good time to check it out as she has written a piece about the current Supports/Surfaces exhibition at Canada Gallery. The Cherry and Martin Gallery in Los Angeles also hosted an exhibition focusing on Support/Surfaces artists earlier this year: Supports/Surfaces is Alive and Well. All these exhibitions and writings are evidence that ideas around this 1970’s French movement are definitely in the current zeitgeist.

While painting practice informed by installation seems to be a relatively recent consideration, as seen in the work of Katharina Grosse, or Victoria-based artist Robert Youds; an investigation into the relationship between painting and its supports began many decades ago with aritsts such Lucia Fontana from Italy and his sliced canvases (1959), and Richard Tuttle from the U.S with his octagonal canvases. These are both artists who challenged the conventional use of canvas in painting as solely a support. While all works on a stretched canvas or linen start off as three-dimensional form by the very nature of the support, most painters choose to ignore this fact and focus mainly on the flatness of the surface as it appears right in front of them. The Supports/Surfaces artists used the idea of the support (or lack thereof) to inform the meaning and subject of their work.

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