What exactly does it mean to “push the boundaries” of art, and more specifically of painting, in 2016? In the past, painting has both lived and died, most notably in the words of Douglas Crimp’s seminal essay, “The End of Painting.” He wonders aloud if by accepting what was at the time of his writing (in late-modernism), that “the end of painting will have finally been acknowledged.” So, to recapitulate Crimp’s query, “Why painting?” What boundaries are now left to confront for artists working within a medium so plagued over time by, if not cynicism, then incredulity? In viewing the works of Portillo and Kremer, I argue for the presence of sculptural earnestness and tongue-in-cheek humor, which transport each artist’s respective flavors of abstraction into fresh visual realms. Clement Greenberg famously conceived of this departure from gestural non-representation as “post-painterly abstraction,” traces of which can be seen throughout Pushing Boundaries.
Consider the works of Eduardo Portillo, his pieces negotiating the literal edges and surfaces of the pictorial plane. They take the form of abstracted reliefs, the faces of which bulge and protrude into haptic space, almost as if blocking an attempted escape from beneath. In her 1991 article, “The Shape of Painting in the 1960s,” Frances Colpitt writes about the historical deviation from the rectilinear to include differently shaped canvases, which brought sculptural considerations into discussions about painting. She explains that the shaped canvas “was evidence of the desire of painters to move into real space by rejecting behind-the-frame illusionism.” Colpitt appropriately cites artists like Lee Bontecou and Frank Stella, apt influences whose work hybridizing painting and sculpture naturally precede Portillo. In works like Haku and Korosi, swathes of color embrace the confines of his mountainous pictorial fields, allowing the marriage of blankness and shadow to be captured so tidily within.
There is a palpable synthesis and interplay between both artists’ treatment of the individual formal components of their work, in terms of how the boundaries that they are testing have less to do with rebellion and radicalism of the medium itself than being conscious of exploring one’s interests. For Portillo, he’s not so much making paintings as sculptures, and Kremer is telling jokes with shapes. Or perhaps they’re both making visual allusions to a story they once heard and are still figuring out how to retell.