“Painting is only the prop”

At Catherine’s Art Tours blog, art historian and critic Catherine Spaeth assesses the importance of painting in Whitney Biennials past and present. “One of the things that strikes me about this show is the stated embrace of failure. In her own voice, Ellen Harvey says through the headset that her painting installation Museum of Failure: Collection of Possible Subjects and Invisible Self-Portraits (2007) ‘is a monument to failure, the ghost of the piece that might have been…hand made representation is automatically a failure – let�s start off by failing as extravagantly as possible.’ Photography appears in two ways – first as the hole in a carnival prop, through which one puts one�s head, and second in the carefully rendered self-portraits, taken from photographs that have obliterated their subject by a flash in the mirror. It is the naive and false despair of the beginning art student, struck by inadequacy in the face of nature and photography. Why the feigned appeal to such misunderstandings and false anxieties? Harvey’s failure is just another parody of a diehard narrative that keeps re-appearing because we can congratulate ourselves for knowing it. Photography and the death of painting: Standing between the trompe l�oeil wall of obliterated self-portraits and the discomfort of a bank of fluorescent light, perhaps we are to feel obliterated by the flash as well? The overwrought machinery of it fails me, and I respond to this as rhetoric, as just another move in the game to legitimize the ambition to simply keep on painting. And this is what Ellen Harvey excels at, it is all about finding that one little hook in order to maintain sheer continuity in fear of its end. Painting is only the prop.” Read more.

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