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Reviewed by:
  • Painting with Architecture in Mind ed. by Edward Whittaker and Alex Landrum
  • Agnieszka Mlicka
Painting with Architecture in Mind edited by Edward Whittaker and Alex Landrum. Wunderkammer Press, Bath, U.K., 2012. 168 pp., illus. Paper. ISBN: 978-0-9566462-1-7.

With the title in mind, it is easily anticipated that this book advances the current debate on painting in the expanded field, but it covers a much larger territory. Exemplified by practices from the early 20th century through today, the contributing authors approach the relationship between painting and architecture through notions of color, aesthetics versus aesthesia, (de)framing and display, geometric thinking, objecthood, dematerialization and autopoiesis. The introduction by Edward Whittaker and Alex Landrum hints at this heterogeneity, but it lacks a more consolidated outline of the book in order to provide insight into what "painting with architecture in mind" might signify. A more useful attempt at a contextual framework is provided by John Chilver, who seeks to analyze current developments in contemporary painting based on, but distinct from, modernism and postmodernism. Chilver argues that contemporary painting paradoxically derives its pictoriality from the simultaneous disappearance of the painting-as-object and the materialization of the space of display. His ability to ground this otherwise expansive topic is partly because of his incorporation of artists' intentions aside from his own interpretation and the larger historical framework. In contradistinction, several other chapters, such as Linda Khatir's on framing painting, take a more philosophical approach that requires solid background knowledge for a full engagement with the text. The danger with such impenetrable essays is that the artist's intentions are overridden by the abstract analysis of the work. This approach fails to acknowledge that "painting" in the book's title is an active verb rather than a passive object.

Several chapters do not address painting at all, raising further questions as to how the discussion contributes to contemporary concerns within painting practice. For example, Whittaker's and Rajchman's respective analyses of Lawrence Weiner's and Fred Sandbach's works revoke exhausted discussions on conceptual art and objecthood. A much more unusual contribution is the in-depth discussion of Matisse's mural by Eric Alliez and Jean-Claude Bonne, which proves that painting with architecture in mind can be traced back to early modernism. Their text revisits the critical moment when painting moved outside itself, rejecting pictorial representation to engage with its architectural context through notions of perception, becoming and processes. While there is a danger in applying contemporary concepts such as "the becoming of space" to works created almost a century ago, Matisse's thinking may offer useful insights to contemporary painters choosing to work in spaces that do not conform to the white cube model. Therefore, this chapter would have benefited from a more direct dialogue with current strands of inquiry.

The book offers potential for further crossover debate that could have been picked up by the editors. In his writing on the integration of color into architecture, Mark Pimlott raises the thought-provoking question: "When art is led down the path of fulfilling or representing a function, does it cease to be art?" Bernice Donszelmann's text seems to respond by arguing that the inscription of a wall's surface, for instance through art, is inseparable from the architecture. Her interesting take on the critique of autonomous form builds upon Gottfried Semper's writing that prioritizes surface above structure. Catherine Ferguson comes close to answering this question in her intriguing treatise on how painting is analyzed. She argues that rather than asking what painting is within its own discourse, painting requires a different kind of interpretation to bring out its functional value. Through the concept of autopoiesis, and building upon Deleuze's idea of "the representational image of thought," she aims to establish some methodological principles of analysis that "proceed" with painting though logic rather than observation. The application of this idea to her own analysis of Scheibitz's painting proves more difficult, but nevertheless, the text is an original contribution to the current debate on painting. This may be because of the underlying shift from discussing architecture to the issue of functionality in relation...


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