A new MOMA exhibition, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, takes the pulse of painting right now, and explores how new techniques are colliding with old ideas and vice versa. Art Digest asked the curator, Laura Hoptman, what she’d learned from working with the show’s 17 carefully selected contemporary painters.
1. What is the first painting we see in the show?
Laura Hoptman: ‘The show begins with a display of a group of paintings by Joe Bradley, juxtaposed with two Cosmic Slop paintings by Rashid Johnson, and two mural size paintings by Michaela Eichwald. The first works one actually sees are a group of nine large paintings called Blocked Radiants by Kerstin Bratsch that serve as a kind of explosively beautiful introduction to the show and are located in the entrance area.’
2. Which painter from art history feels most present in the show?
‘I can't say one, but certainly artists from the Modern period: from Kazimir Malevich and Picasso during his Cubist period, through the era of the 1960s hard edge abstraction.’
3. Can you sum up the thesis of the show in 10 words?
‘An exhibition of work that reminds us of many eras past, and because of that, offers a very contemporary take on the culture of the ‘aughties.’
Julie Mehretu. Heavier than air (written form), 2014
Left: Nicole Eisenman, Guy Capitalist. 2011.
Right: Oscar Murillo, 6, 2012-14.
4. That’s 26 words but we’ll let that slide. Is expressionism dead?
‘Of course not!’
5. Ok, so is painting having a moment?
‘Artists are always painting, and the public is always looking at what people paint. Painting might be having a moment in the art market, but I wouldn't say that there are any more (or fewer) artists making wonderful, life changing paintings now, than say, 10 or 15 years ago.’
6. Are painters currently looking inward or outward?
‘That's the beauty of an atemporal cultural universe. You’ve got it all: inward, outward, Warhol, Pollock, Picasso, Polke, all at the same time.’
Michaela Eichwald, Kunsthalle St. Gallen, 2012.
Left: Laura Owens, Untitled, 2013.
Right: Matt Connors, Divot, 2012.
7. Does painting now always require paint? We’re thinking of Hockney's iPad pictures in particular.
‘Of course not, though in this show, everyone touches the canvas at least a little bit.’
8. From your discussions with the painters, could you write a new dictionary of painting — the ‘i-brush’, for example?
‘Using technological means to ‘paint’ goes back almost 30 years to Paintbox technology that was developed in the 1970s. Some artists use airbrush on their paintings, and this is a similarly old technology, one brought to great heights by automobile, motorcycle, and surfboard makers.’
9. Are these 'future directions' directions of aesthetic beauty?
‘I think so. Others are free to disagree.’
Mary Weatherford, La Noche, 2014.
10. Finally, did any thematic contradictions arise?
‘Sure; some artist re-enactors are also re-animators. Some who use so-called ‘primitive’ imagery are also deploying it in very complex ways that are in no way like cave painting. These are just two examples. There are plenty more. The show is meant to be porous and inquisitive. It is an argument but not like one that is presented in a court of law.’