RELATIONS: la diaspora et la peinture, vue d’exposition, Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain, Montréal, 2020.
Photo : Richard-Max Tremblay, permission de | courtesy of Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain, Montréal

The Reactualization of Painting in Digital Times

Daniel Fiset
Although museums, artist-run centres, and institutional galleries have had to shut their doors for much of the past year, two entities have actually facilitated the (re)discovery of painting in 2020: commercial galleries and the Web. The former, which tend to give painting pride of place, were allowed to remain open because their status as commercial businesses exempted them from the provincial government’s imposed health measures, which were geared more toward boosting economic recovery than maintaining broad cultural access to soothe an anxious public. This, despite the fact that visiting a museum carries very low risk in terms of spreading COVID-19.

The Web became another lifeline, particularly for contemporary art galleries that managed to convert their fully installed exhibitions into virtual experiences, with all of the challenges that this sort of adaptation entails. For example, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts offered a virtual tour of Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, the Phi Foundation followed suit with Relations: Diaspora and Painting, and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal offered a filmed exhibition tour of La machine qui enseignait les airs aux oiseaux. Paradoxically, the flatness of the screen, the surface through which we normally experience the Web, has complicated our relationship with the presentation of painting — an art form that was once defined by its surface. What kind of visual experience are these digital platforms trying to offer? How can they accurately reproduce a painting’s details or an artist’s touch? How should we conceive the online experience of artworks that are founded on a medium’s capacity to represent, to represent itself, to make itself visible? By choosing some details over others, is there ultimately an attempt to control what would otherwise be a free, spontaneous, and independent viewing experience?

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This article also appears in the issue 102 - (Re)seeing Painting

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