Current Art Gallery Exhibition
"FRAMING THE STRETCHER"
Curated by Gwenaël Kerlidou
Christian Bonnefoi, Mike Cloud, Mark Dagley, Daniel Dezeuze, Max Estenger, Laurence Grave,Heather Hutchison,
Pierre Louaver, Fabian Marcaccio, Chris Watts, Alexi Worth
Oct. 12 - Oct. 30, 2022
"Metaphysically Yours Remembering the News" ,31.5” x 47.25”, 2022
Framing the Stretcher is an exhibition that explores how the painting stretcher has evolved as a formal presence, equal with the painted surface itself. It features the work of eleven European and American artists who have employed a wide variety of new materials, painterly approaches, and conceptual strategies, and in the process radically transformed the art of painting. The exhibition traces the stretcher as an independent element, from the first questioning of its symbolic function in mid-sixties Europe, to its role as a post-Deconstructionist trope in contemporary painting in America and Europe.
Daniel Dezeuze is represented by a gauze painting from 1981, part of a series of work that followed his gauze ladders from 1972-73, conflating the hard geometry of the stretcher-support with the soft pliability of the canvas-surface, and which further developed the idea of the soft stretcher structure first presented in 1970 in the wake of the clear plastic pieces.
Christian Bonnefoi, works on both sides of the surface. One of the first to engage directly with Dezeuze’s statement, he took it one step further towards strategies aimed at reconfiguring painting as a symbolic product rather than just an analytical object. The painting in the show belongs to the ongoing Babel series originated in the late 1970s. Through its systematic use of tarlatan and mesh, he emphasizes ideas of transparency and reversibility versus opacity and specularity.
In a prescient series of work exhibited in New York in the late 1980s, Mark Dagley articulated a few possible options for abstract painting to grow into. As part of that argument, in 1991 he exhibited a few multipaneled pieces exposing the stretcher through mesh or chicken wire, such as the piece included in this show.
Well before he discovered Daniel Dezeuze’s work, Max Estenger started using stretchers covered in clear plastic sheeting integrated within larger configurations of canvas and metal covered panels. When he originally engaged with the transparency of the picture plane, he related it to the light and space Movement in California, exemplified by the work of Robert Irwin and James Turrell.
In the early nineties, Fabian Marcaccio began to integrate elements of the stretcher in his work, subjecting it to the same baroque mutations as his painted images. In his “Paintant” series, he presents a playful and ironic sci-fi critique of an often intellectually ponderous deconstructed abstraction.
Using Donald Judd’s minimalist concept of the wall box as a surrogate for the stretcher, Heather Hutchison turned to the use of tinted wax on repurposed plexiglass, exposing through the translucent space an idea of the natural sublime that harks back to both Ab-Ex esthetics (and to the Hudson River School) without relying on the familiar gambit of a large format.
Pierre Louaver (1954-2019) worked with translucent sheer fabric in lieu of canvas over the last twenty years of his life. After moving from New York to Berlin, Germany, in 2017 he completed a series of small paintings which exposed the stretcher and integrated it as part of the painting’s frame, while emphasizing the ambiguity of the spatial depth behind his floating geometric figures.
Reversing the conventionally accepted presentation of painting in Western culture, Laurence Grave, a French artist based in Berlin, works on the back of stretched canvases, sometimes peeling the canvas off the stretcher, or removing it altogether, making the stretcher an integral part of the painted configuration. One wonders if this insistent turning inside out of presentation/representation protocols in her work is also a symbolic reversal of patriarchal codes.
Mike Cloud’s piece belongs to his Hanging Paintings exhibited in 2019. In that series the artist used the vocabulary of abstraction to question its relationship to the political and the personal. These pieces are intended as shrines to forgotten victims of crimes, where the exposed broken stretcher bars operate as the most visible signs of a fractured social contract.
To emphasize the ambiguous physicality of the painted surface and question the relationship of the image to its support, ALexi Worth, a representational painter, has been using open mesh instead of canvas as a substrate in his work since 2013. His concerns with mesh and the critique of the integrity of the picture plane echo in many ways those of abstract painters such as Bonnefoi and Dezeuze.
Chris Watts came to using resin coated mesh on exposed stretchers, via a political activist need for metaphorical transparency. Looking back to Sigmar Polke’s transparent paintings he builds his surfaces with a slow superposition of resin layers considered from the angle of a symbolic accumulation of generational experience rather than from Polke’s angle of critical deconstruction of capitalist codes.
Adventures and Misadventures of an Idea
Some ideas have their own unpredictable ways of migrating and circulating from one place to another, of disappearing and reappearing in unforeseen contexts at unexpected times, often doubling back on themselves under different guises. Recently, one such an idea has been that of the use of the stretcher in contemporary painting.
For example, unbeknownst to each other, but both working their way out of the impact of Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale slashed paintings, Carla Accardi, around 1966 in Rome, Italy, and Daniel Dezeuze, in 1967 Paris, France, reached very similar reformulations of the traditional relationship of canvas to stretcher in painting, by replacing the opaque canvas with a transparent material, exposing the support behind it. Accardi used an industrial product called Sicofoil, Dezeuze covered his stretchers with sheets of clear plastic film. In 1968 Dusseldorf, Germany, Imi Knoebel exhibited “Keilrahmen”, a small bare stretcher hanging on the wall as part of a larger installation. Later, in the early eighties, Sigmar Polke’s clear resin paintings, exposing the stretcher bars through the painted image, would incorporate the self-reflective vocabulary of analytical abstraction within his pop inflected cultural commentary. All these artists articulated different iterations of a key proposition which would continue to reverberate for years in art studios on both sides of the Atlantic, that of the stretcher as a formal device on equal footing with the painted surface.
Accardi and Dezeuze presented the viewer with a sort of “zero-degree” approach to painting. While Accardi’s work was hanging on the wall and Dezeuze’s resting on the floor, both wrapping clear plastic over the stretcher, Knoebel presented it as a bare object. Either way, these pieces insisted that painting be considered both as a physical and a linguistic object, a product of the syntax of its own material components, rather than a window opening up on a fictional space. At the time, the only way Dezeuze’s gesture could be construed in France was as a sort of Duchampian provocation, but his formulation of the operative dichotomy of the substrate versus the surface in painting would soon become emblematic, not just of a group of young French painters which coalesced shortly after under the very name of Supports/Surfaces, but also of a more general post-structuralist approach to painting, later assembled under the loose umbrella term of “Deconstruction” in English.
But if Accardi, Dezeuze and Knoebel “paintings” now appear so prescient and iconic in hindsight, their immediate effect turned out to be singularly limited to the European art scene of the seventies.
In the US at that time, Clement Greenberg’s views of a transcendent opticality dominated the art scene, and no one would hear of “Deconstruction” for a long time. Those ideas would have been quite incomprehensible, and therefore invisible to an American audience, via the critical apparatus at its disposal in the English language back then. And thus, it seemed for a time that these “European” ideas would be doomed to be relegated to the dustbin of history, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the future, when these ideas finally crossed the Atlantic in the early 1990s, when a new generation of painters developed an interest in ideas that had been ignored by, or out of reach for, the previous generation, and reached similar conclusions from different angles.
And so it is that, in the last forty years, the stretcher has increasingly become part of painters’ formal lexicon, to the point of turning into a sort of trope of a post-Deconstructionist approach to painting, whether abstract or representational.
This exhibition aims to point to a few markers of this renewed interest within contemporary practices, in acknowledging the presence of the stretcher-support as part of the element of the rhetoric of painting and occasionally integrating it into the configuration of the surface, while avoiding the pitfalls of a Duchamp-style fetishization.
A few of these artists, such as Dezeuze, Estenger, Marcaccio, Grave and Watts, frame the question of the stretcher directly in their work, while others, such as Bonnefoi, Hutchison, Louaver and Worth, address it indirectly via the use of a mesh substrate, be it gauze, tarlatan, silk, or polyester netting, exposing the stretcher through a translucent screen and pointing to the ambiguous opacity of the traditional stretcher and canvas apparatus.
What is interesting is that through their use of the stretcher as a device one may be able to trace the evolution of these painters’ discourse and stance on painting over the last forty years or so, and of many others as well, as a dance between the two opposite poles of the analytical and the metaphorical, with a major recent swing towards the metaphorical. But this is another story. ------- Gwenaël Kerlidou