Going beyond fashion

Although painting has been the basis for some of the most daring experimentations of art, there have been many instances in the 20th century when the progressive nature of the medium was contested by the more radical voices of art, and its impending crisis repeatedly prophesied. Back in the 1930s, for instance, Walter Benjamin identified film, photography and photomontage as the radical elements of modernism, which he also regarded as carrying political and democratic overtones. Paintings, on the contrary, could be easily turned into fetishized commodities, and as such served the dominant bourgeois ideology. Painting had to face the challenge of mechanical reproducibility, much in the same way that the elitism of painting, particularly modernist painting, was seen some decades later as conflicting with the spirit of popular culture but also with the more intellectual, object-free pursuits of conceptual art. Despite these challenges, painting never perished and by the 1980s actually re-emerged as a prevalent medium and an apt expression of postmodernism’s pluralistic and retrospective spirit. The impetus of this revival now belongs to the past and so does the criticism of painting as a socially distanced medium. The challenges to painting may be different but they still exist; and far from being specific to painting, they pertain to art in general. This, at least, is what «All Fashioned,» a group exhibition on contemporary painting currently on view at the Fine Arts Center for Contemporary Art in Larissa, seems to argue. Curated by art critic Nikos Xydakis, the exhibition points to how the contemporary quest for novelty and change tends to overshadow the content of art and our appreciation of it. It argues that in the contemporary, marketing-dominated artworld, the production, promotion and reception of art are all modeled after the rules of fashion and fast consumption. The packaging and marketing of art obscures art’s intellectual content, turning it into spectacle and its audience into superficial recipients constantly swayed by trends. Recently, video and the use of technology in general, has been one such strong trend in art (video works were appeared continuously at the latest Venice Biennale). On the face of it, painting, which is very much alive, also resonates with the safety of tradition. «All Fashioned» shows the opposite: by concentrating exclusively on painting, it seems to say that what for some may appear «old fashioned» is actually «in fashion» or, better yet, «always in fashion.» Painting, and art in general, should be seen as beyond the notion of fashion; this is the exhibit’s essential message. This is probably what explains the selection of artists across different generations and varied styles. Costas Tsoclis and Alekos Levidis are the most established of the group but differ greatly in style; Tsoclis was one of Greece’s most experimental artists of the 1960s, whereas Levidis is more of a traditionalist (Levidis is also known for his research on Ancient Greek, Byzantine and Renaissance painting techniques). Also working in a more traditional style of painting are Ilias Charisis, Dimitris Sevastakis and Yiannis Kastritsis, all of the same generation. Ilias Marmaras paints with a detail and realism reminiscent of Dutch 17th-century painting, while Yiannis Skaltsas likes working with texture. The youngest of the group are Mandalina Psoma who paints in a neo-realist fashion, Maria Rigoutsou (both former pupils of Yiannis Kounellis) and Konstantinos Papamichalopoulos. «All Fashioned» brings these artists together by virtue of their preference for painting, albeit with different styles that range from the academic to the contemporary. Despite these differences, their common root in a traditional medium is symbolic of how painting, and art in general, should be appreciated beyond passing fads. And just as the act of painting involves a physical process, our viewing of art should also involve sustained concentration and an approach freed from the dictates of fashion.