Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist on What Makes Painting an “Urgent” Medium Today

Painting has always served as a kind of laboratory for innovative ways of looking at the world, from the perspectival experiments of Alberti all the way to Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, abstraction,Minimalism, et cetera. Painters often saw themselves as an advance guard, pushing a kind of investigation forward in new terrain. Here, you’ve mentioned how in these shows artists were taking a variety of approaches simultaneously, with figuration and abstraction oscillating and with every sort of style going on at once. I wonder, when you were going through all that polyphony, looking at all these paintings from around the globe, was there any kind of forward progress that you could discern?

We live in a very nonlinear sort of period. So, I think it’s more a jumping universe. But obviously, I do realize there is certainly a progress in a sense, because there are still inventions of new rules of the game. It’s like what David Deutsch describes in his seminal book, The Fabric of Reality, where he talks about parallel realities that exist. I think it’s much more about these parallel realities than a kind of linear progress.


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