Panel discussion on provisionality in artmaking

Special thanks to Kathy Knaus and Anna Maddocks for hosting this panel discussion at Ice Cube Gallery, in the midst of their exhibitions that are up through November 9, 2013.

Panel Members Bruce Price who just deinstalled his solo exhibition at the Denver Art Museum Paper Works Gallery, Rebecca Peebles interdisciplinary, conceptual artist and founder of Groundswell Gallery, Donald Fodness artist, teacher and founder of Showpen Residency and Gallery were joined by moderator, Theresa Anderson (yes, me.)

My notes from the panel discussion:

An excerpt from the article “Provisional Painting by Raphael Rubenstein in the May 2009 Art in America “At times provisional painting overlaps with “bad painting,” a mode with roots in the 1970s that continues to offer artists means of engaging the medium without having to take on all of its unwanted trappings. When Kippenberger employed techniques that give the impression of haste and clumsiness, it allowed him to mock the market along with the medium (though he also snuck in some virtuosic painting that doesn’t seem pretentious). But provisionality can also be taken to a point where there is not even a remote possibility of “bad” concealing “good.” That seems to be where Joe Bradley’s intent in the “Schmagoo Paintings” that he showed at Canada gallery in New York last fall. A distinction needs to be made between Bradley and the other artists I have been discussing here. Their work may at times come off as uncertain, incomplete, casual, self-cancelling or unfinished, but each of them is fully committed to the project of painting. If they seek to break existing, perhaps unspoken, contracts with painting, it is only in order to draw up other protocols that will renew the medium. Bradley’s work, which sometimes shares the guttersnipe esthetics of artists such as Dan Colen and Dash Snow, seems more like a willful artistic gesture than part of a painter’s necessary process.

Provisional painting is not about making last paintings, nor is it about the deconstruction of painting. It’s the finished product disguised as a preliminary stage, or a body double standing in for a star/masterpiece whose value would put a stop to artistic risk. To put it another way: provisional painting is major painting masquerading as minor painting. In their book Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1986), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari described how Kafka’s linguistic and cultural condition (as a Jewish author writing in German in Prague where the type of German he spoke was “minor” in relation both to the locally dominant Czech language and to standard German) involved the “impossibility” of writing in German and the “impossibility of not writing.” Kafka’s solution was to fashion a mode of writing that seemed to erase all literary precedents, and to create an oeuvre that barely survived into the future. Faced with painting’s imposing history and the diminishment of the medium by newer art forms, recent painters may have found themselves in similarly “minor” situations; the provisionality of their work is an index of the impossibility of painting and the equally persistent impossibility of not painting.”

I posit that the unfinished, modest, second tries, hasty, broken, awkward, indecisive, (seemingly) amateur, and/ or mistaken exists in opposition to the monumental, historical, formal, and minimalist perfection of the grid. I’d also like to open the discussion past provisional painting and consider all kinds of artworks that employ the characteristics of provisionality and the unmonumental. Let’s look beyond the material specificity of paint and reconsider it as a strategy of refusal.

The questions below were mostly asked or addressed in some way through a discussion format. I’ve added some commentary based on my notes.

  1. I’d like to start by asking each of you for your own definition of (what has been named by critics) provisional or Unmonumental artwork?  Or how do you know it when you see it? Panel members discussed the opening at length with two very key points being made- there’s a definite evidence of artistic practice and a loose attitude towards materials.
  2. What do you consider it’s most important elements? “the moment is more important than the eternal”
  3. Brian Dupont in A Provisional Explanation that that “The rise of so-called provisional strategies in abstraction was first identified by the critic Raphael Rubinstein[ii] and has subsequently been expanded by other curators and writers[iii] who have enlarged his basic taxonomy into an ever widening ecosystem of artists who seemingly eschew craft, finish, precision, virtuosity, and even ambition. The central problem is that the discourse surrounding provisional strategies does not rise above identification. The label is trend-spotting or cool hunting for the newest fashion, but since the provisional is not an organized movement, school, or even well defined set of tendencies it can easily be applied to almost any art or artist.”

If style is defined as something that can be identified as constant or recurring, coherent- Can provisionality be considered a style or does it remain in the category of a strategy? We were in agreement that this is a strategy that artists have employed in many different movements (thanks Kate Petley for adding Arte Povera to the discussion.) Rebecca Vaughan, an attendee, added this summation “Tonight, I attended the Provisional Painting panel at Ice Cube Gallery, where I learned that this kind of work is about the incomplete, the bad, the strategy of refusal, the desire to disrupt a compulsion for control.
I wondered, how does this relate to me, someone not in love with paint like my fellow artist-painters? And it occurred to me: this kind of work is about an attitude towards the material (not necessarily the paint material) and therefore an attitude about my body, my desires, my need to communicate. And even though I often treat materials in a very controlled manner, this is actually the position from where I chose to stand – it’s just that showing a crushing control over the body, the desire, the communication – is a great way to show my sloppy, lovable, awkward self.”

4. At the beginning of his article Rubenstein asked “Why would an artist demur at the prospect of a finished work, court self-sabotaging strategies, sign his or her name to a painting that looks, from some perspectives, like an utter failure? It might have something to do with a foundational skepticism that runs through the history of modern art: we see it in Cézanne’s infinite, agonized adjustments of Mont St. Victoire, in Dada’s noisy denunciations…, in Giacometti’s endless obliterations and restartings of his painted portraits, in Sigmar Polke’s gloriously dumb compositions of the 1960s. Something similar can be found in other art forms, in Paul Valéry’s insistence that a poem is “never finished, only abandoned,” in Artaud’s call for “no more masterpieces,” and in punk’s knowing embrace of the amateurish and fucked-up. The history of modernism is full of strategies of refusal and acts of negation.”

Considering that – What do each of you consider your own relationship or interest in the Unmonumental, casual, or provisional? Why are you here tonight? None of the artists considers their work provisional but Peebles presented an exhibition on Provisional Painting at Groundswell Gallery, Fodness’ interest in the topic possibly intersects with his attitude towards materials his interest in “Unmonumental” sculpture (reference the book Unmonumental, the Object in the 21st Century), and Bruce Price occasionally references these strategies in his prolific art making.

5. What is it about something that can be considered casual, dashed-off, tentative, unfinished or self-cancelling- artworks that deliberately turn away from strength- for something that seems to constantly risk inconsequence or collapse” what is it about that type of work that peaks our interest and is demanding attention again? –ie- the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis first painting exhibition in more than 10 years, Painter Painter, is dealing with inconsequential works.

How does this type of work hold our attention? Bruce Price explained that in the last ten years the ability of what was previously discarded mark making now is able to hold his attention (comment on the expansion of acceptable marks).

6. How does one differentiate between the inexperienced and the casual?

7. Brian Dupont, defending provisional painting, wrote extensively on lack of time, resources and failures that  “Artists today[xviii] are confronting an increasingly ramshackle future where aesthetic, political, economic, and ecological promises have been revealed as failures. If they are seeing a future where issues of scarcity become more urgent, materials must be recycled or scavenged from surplus[xix], and long-held political standards become increasingly irrelevant, it would seem natural to see trends in painting (re) emerge that question formal equivalents of these standards.If a provisional vocabulary can provide a timely reinvigoration of the expression of individual concerns, that should be all the ambition anyone needs in a painting.”

Do you believe that these strategies of refusal are a reflection on our present and future aesthetic, economic,political and ecological failures?

Both Fodness and Peebles were in agreement that this was not the case. In fact, they believed it was the opposite. That materials are so plentiful and ready at hand that an artist could find the resources to make art at a breakneck speed. The Autoconstrucciones Suites of Abraham Cruzvillegas was brought up as an example.

8. Can provisionality be a riff against the allurement of the art market?

9. Rubenstein calls it the “art of exhaustion”- Do you agree?

10. Do you have any examples of non-provisional painting that some may confuse with PP? Why arent’ they P? (artists like DeKooning, Basquiat, Pollock, Agnes Martin? Looking for unexpected outcomes?

Rauschenberg- some of his work is and then isn’t.

11. We’ve mostly talked about abstract. Is it only abstract provisionalism? Or as Rubenstein noted with roots in DADA, cubism, impressionism, etc can it also be non-abstract? If so, any examples? What does that do, how does it differ? What could it look like?

12. If it could be non-abstract on the scale between non-objective and abstract towards realism- Would it tend towards what Brian Dupont considered strategies of refusal? Refusal of Western History?


“Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century” review of exhibition in the New York Times and the book-


Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites at the Walker Art Center

Painter Painter at the Walker Art Center-

ABSTRACT PAINTING: The New Casualists by Sharon L. Butler-


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