About the concept

On the third edition of the Ariane de Rothschild Prize for Painting, the need was felt to establish the scope of the contest, that is, the underlying philosophy. In the beginning, when this prize was established, there was only one question: a prize for painting or about painting? More than just linguistics, this difference in wording represents a huge conceptual difference. The first possibility relies, specifically and uniquely, on painting, whilst the second one proposed a widened scope into which converge different media (some of them not even specifically related to painting), reflecting a broadened idea about the discipline. And where did we place ourselves? In a position in which we would be simultaneously specific but also encompassing, and where painting is explored in its more contemporary and experimental dimension.

In the regulation, it is stated that “the prize is aimed primarily at painting; the works to be presented for contest can be works that use the conventional supports for painting, or other works whose theme, technique or expression are related to, or make reference to, painting, namely photographs, sculpture and video”. Thus, it was our intention, in establishing this prize, to support and adopt a line of thought that states that painting cannot be entirely defined as a medium, but rather as an expanded and complex field of interrelations.

Defining what a painting is used to be a simple exercise: paint on a two-dimensional surface, for the most part canvas or wood.Simple enough. Nowadays, this definition seems obsolete or, at least, rather incomplete. It is no longer possible to classify painting in these terms: for example, Cubism has shown that it is possible to replace paint with other materials, such as newspaper clippings. It is still painting. The two-dimensional surface has also been questioned (one has only to think about Picasso’s relief paintings or the works by Rauschenberg).

What is it then that makes a painting into a painting? This question, that has been, perhaps, one of the central and centralizing questions of the whole modernist quest, is still a determining consideration in the contemporary artistic practice, as is shown by the several events that, all over the world, are dedicated to this theme: This is the case of international exhibitions such as Painting at the Edge of the World (Walker Art Center, 2001), Urgent Painting (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2002), and Painting – The Expanded Field (Magasin3, Stockholm, 1996), or Biennales such as the one of Prague, focused on the questions of young painting, that presented, in its first edition, an exhibition entitled Lazarus Effect, that was exactly about the rebirth of painting.

In his seminal art history text, The End of Art, Arthur C. Danto defended the death of art whilst defined by rigorous criteria focused on an evolutionary narrative of progress. It was this same theorist that, later on, proposed the expression “art after the death of art”, whose exact definition and structure are, in his opinion, still unknown. The appearance of this concept is not equivalent to the exhaustion of art or, in particular, of painting, but exactly the opposite. It was precisely the vitality that he witnessed in painting, its ability to question itself, and its unmatchable capacity to reinvent itself, that led Danto to create this conceptualization. In his book Painting: the task of mourning, Yve-Alain Bois emphasizes that “if some painting is still to come, if new painters are still to be known, they will make their appearance from the most unexpected paths”. The new generation of emerging artists, not only in Portugal but all over the world, has been working experimentally in a most diversified group of media, recognizing and accepting the legacy of painting, and redefining it in contemporary terms – many times through an actualization of its different genres, such as, between others, the still life or the portrait.

This Prize not only proclaims the life of painting (in opposition to its permanently announced death), but also demonstrates its importance and status. As such, it aims at combining the artistic tradition that is paintings’ heritage with the new trends and artistic lexica of the 21st century, penetrating the expanded field of painting, a hybrid field, where categories and divisions no longer make sense – the modern is entangled with the old, figuration with abstraction.

The Ariane de Rothschild Prize for Painting aims to reflect, equate and disclose the proliferation of contemporary artistic practices that constitute and enrich this field of cultural creativity. And, in this way, to prove that, in a growing globalized world, the philosophy of painting also mixes with other fields of art, namely, photography, video, sculpture and, even, performance.

Filipa Oliveira

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