Arts Lab

Whitechapel exhibition shows painting can do things other media can’t

Radical Figures: Painting in the New MillenniumWhitechapel Gallery, London 6th Feb-10th May 2020

Review by Adrian Searle in The Guardian Weekly – Feb 2020:

The death of painting is always being rehearsed and rehashed. This exhibition (Radical Figures) takes on board the idea that it can do things other media can’t. Much of what we see from the 10 artists here has emerged from through the particularities of a medium.

Often compared with Peter Doig, Daniel Richter has a more scattergun approach. His best work here is a 2001 image of a group of refugees on a life raft at night, their clothes and faces fluorescing and fracturing in the light of heat-sensitive cameras.

In Sanya Kantarovsky’s work, a baby clings to its mother bent back like a goading parasite, its hands clasping her red nipple as she struggles on. Michael Armitage’s paintings use a cloth made from bark, usually used for funeral shrouds in his native Kenya, as a support. Its unevenness adds a resistance to his painting process, forcing him into moves he might otherwise not make. 

Nicole Eisenmann blows everything we have seen so far out of the water, with a pair of gigantic 2006 paintings titled Progress: Real and Imagined. In the left panel, the artist is all at sea in a floating studio. Great lumps of paint congeal on her palette. Flowers explode like fireworks. There is so much to look at. Eisenmann’s art is full of life. She takes things to another level. Dana Schutz, who hangs opposite, can at least stand up to all this with her rumbustious, glaring, painterly images.

In Tchabalala Self’s New York scenes, a female cop stares us down. Two figures compete with gigantic red legs painted on the wall. There should be more of her work, partying on while painting dies – or doesn’t.’

For fuller article with images, see Radical Figures review – ‘sex, snakes, sprouting heads and flying burgers’ – Adrian Searle 5th Feb 2020 The Guardian