Painting Zero Degree

  • Painting Zero Degree, installation view, UMBC Fine Arts Gallery, 2001.

  • Painting Zero Degree, installation view, UMBC Fine Arts Gallery, 2001.

  • Painting Zero Degree, installation view, UMBC Fine Arts Gallery, 2001.

  • Painting Zero Degree, installation view, UMBC Fine Arts Gallery, 2001.

  • Painting Zero Degree, installation view, UMBC Fine Arts Gallery, 2001.

  • Painting Zero Degree, installation view, UMBC Fine Arts Gallery, 2001.

Curated by Carlos Basualdo

Roughly thirty years ago, in the late sixties and early seventies, a revolution in painting occurred. A number of artists in Europe and the United States developed new ways of painting that disregarded any traditional notion of what constitutes a work of art. Robert Ryman, Niele Toroni, John McCracken and Daniel Buren, among others, reduced their practice to the “basics,” variously eliminating brush stroke, color, and canvas. The exhibition Painting Zero Degree maps some of the radical pictorial practices these artists proposed and, at the height of a recurrence of painting, introduces a rereading of their strategies by an eclectic international group of young artists who, like their predecessors, work in untraditional media that now also include industrial materials, furniture, clothing, and video. New works will be created specifically for the exhibition by five of the fourteen artists, including John McCracken.

Developed in close collaboration with the curatorial staff at each institution, Painting Zero Degree is installed differently at each venue, with many of the pieces tailored by each institution to its own exhibition spaces. This element of transformation directly addresses the interests of many museums and artists and the specific conditions of a traveling exhibition. Inspired by French philosopher Roland Barthes’ book Writing Degree Zero, the exhibition identifies pictorial practices that fit neither the concept of an “autonomous,” truly abstract painting nor that of the ready-made, an object transposed from a specific context. The works assembled here alternatively approach one or the other position, marking an ambiguous and complex place between specific context and the conditions established by the Modernist tradition of abstract painting.

The introductory section of the exhibition is comprised of older as well as recent works by Buren, Toroni, Ryman and McCracken. Buren’s radical proposition of breaking the traditional relationship between pictorial practice and canvas in order to extend that practice to the environment is still vital and rich. His decision not to abandon the specificity of the medium – paint – but rather to question its relation with the institutional context – a museum or gallery space – has proved to have wide ranging implications still not fully explored. To this exhibition, he contributes one of his rare floor pieces that will turn the gallery floor into one of his trademark striped environments. Toroni’s approach may be considered the perfect counterpart to Buren. Toroni broke both the relation between the pictorial gesture and the canvas and isolated the brush stroke as the minimum component of painting or wallpaper – as in this show. Ryman developed a parallel methodology by focusing exclusively on the qualities of brush stroke and the support, seemingly eliminating color and composition. Four of his paintings, two from his personal collection, are included in the exhibition. On the West Coast, John McCracken isolated color and form, producing a series of pieces where the practice of painting borders on design without ever being absorbed into its utilitarianism. He created three new pieces for Painting Zero Degree.

Leaning closely on these four historical figures, Painting Zero Degree moves into a strictly contemporary domain and introduces works by ten younger artists: Fabio Kacero (Argentina, b. 1961), Clay Ketter (USA/Sweden, b. 1961), Peter Kogler (Austria, b. 1958), Felipe Mujica (Chile, b. 1974), Gladys Nistor (Argentina/France, b. 1960), Karin Sander (Germany, b. 1958), Adrian Schiess (Switzerland, b. 1959), Pablo Siquier (Argentina, b. 1961), Sophie Smallhorn (Great Britain, b. 1971), and Rudolf Stingel (Italy/Switzerland, b. 1956).

Kacero’s abstract pictorial signs are mounted on inflated canvases that resemble pillows. Ketter’s artifacts evoke unfinished kitchen furniture and play with the idea of painting being reduced to its minimum and almost transformed into an element of daily life. Both Stingel’s color field carpets and Kogler’s wallpaper are tailored to the specific architecture at each venue. Mujica designs flexible structures that act like three-dimensional game boards and can be entered by the gallery visitor. Nistor applies to the wall pieces of felt contact paper whose stark black outlines recall architectural features such as windows. Schiess’ digitally composed video “paintings” are large-scale projections whose colors mutate ever so slightly over the course of an hour. Siquier reduces painting to compositional problems by elimination color and isolating an array of digitally designed black lines on a white canvas. Sander contributes one small white monochrome work with one red brush stroke, to be mounted on a wall by itself. Smallhorn translates illusionistic painterly space into three-dimensional objects void of any apparent content.


Accompanying this exhibition is the catalogue Painting Zero Degree, edited by Carlos Basualdo and published by Independent Curators International (ICI). Please visit our shop for more information.



Carlos Basualdo

Carlos Basualdo is the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he oversees the Museum’s Department of Contemporary Art. In 2006, he initiated two exhibition series at the Museum called Notations and Live Cinema, both of which are devoted to the permanent collection and video. He was the lead organizer of Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens that represented the United States at the 2007 Venice Biennale, where it was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. In 2010 he organized a survey exhibition of the work of the Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, a collaboration between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and MAXXI (Museo nazionale delle arti del secolo XXI), where it traveled in the spring of 2011. Most recently, he organized Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp, which opened in Philadelphia in October of 2012. He has was part of the curatorial teams for Documenta11, the 50th Venice Biennale and conceived and curated Tropicalia: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture, which traveled from the MCA Chicago to the Barbican Gallery in London (2004/2005) as well as the Bronx Museum in New York and the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro (2006/2007). From 2010 until 2013 he worked as Curator at Large at MAXXI Arte, in Rome, Italy.


touring schedule

Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art
Cleveland, OH, United States
March 22, 2002 - June 2, 2002

Fuller Museum of Art
Brockton, MA, United States
December 15, 2001 - February 24, 2002

St. Mary’s University Art Gallery
Halifax, Canada
May 11, 2001 - June 17, 2001

University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Baltimore, MD, United States
January 22, 2001 - March 10, 2001

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma
Norman, OK, United States
September 22, 2000 - October 15, 2000

Cranbrook Art Museum
Bloomfield Hills, MI, United States
February 5, 2000 - April 2, 2000

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