The exhibition by New York-based, German-Croatian artist Genoveva Filipovic is titled Shiva 2019 ✆. Her art seems enigmatic, but light; it is hermetic, yet open, serious, yet oblique. It is an afterthought and an over-archiver. It never fishes for compliments. It is painting after the proclaimed end of painting that was famously never reached, except perhaps in the heads of art historians and art critics. Nevertheless, the suggestion was a powerful one – perhaps more so for male painters than female painters. The discourse centered on formalism, the idea that form in its essence is free and autonomous, with artworks wide open for interpretation and prone to long accompanying explanatory texts. This idea, pure form as a gateway to freedom, was eventually questioned by post-colonialist and feminist theorists, who pointed out that autonomy comes with a price and no form exists outside of context. This meant trouble for abstraction, the chief discipline of formalism in art. As abstraction was ideologically exposed, the figure, previously cast aside as reactionary, received a cautionary reevaluation and new standing.
Today, as discussions on questions of gender and identity have taken center stage, the discourse of form and figure is largely obsolete (one critical assessment is replaced by another). Feeling that autonomy was impossible, artists have repeatedly chosen to empty their paintings from any content, hoping that this form of radical rejection would ultimately hold some kind of freedom. All this seems to inform the work of Genoveva Filipovic in some sense - and then again, perhaps not. The question then is: in what context shall her work be read? How shall it be understood, if it refuses to be limited by art historical developments, contemporary gender politics, and established points of view? How shall it be registered, if it evades all calculation and passionately embraces rejection, while refusing that same rejection? For the time being, all we can promise is the paintings themselves, their contemplation and whatever it is they do or don’t do. One thing is certain: the art of Genoveva Filipovic combines «the artist's despair facing the grandeur of ancient ruins» (J.H. Füssli) with the viewer's despair facing the grandeur of ancient ruins.
What is shown in Shiva 2019 ✆ ? The exhibition consists of 17 works on canvas, made specifically for Kunsthalle Zürich, five identical posters, flat cardboard and a series of round prints on paper, which have been placed beneath the paintings as if they were train wheels. All of it is hard to pin down – which is the artist’s goal precisely. Filipovic extends an invitation to take your time and look closely, a political act at a time when you can make troves of images disappear into the abyss (or cloud) by simply swiping them away, and humans disappear through «ghosting». Filipovic’ painting is basic research: Canvas, mostly black and white paint, masking tape, brushwork and composition. What does it take to make a painting? What does it take to make an panel become an image? How does a motive appear, and what makes it fail? Is reduction important? The sparse use of brushstrokes? Or are accumulation, overlap, and compression the same, as Filipovic’ black paintings suggest? What makes a painting flip? What painting does not work? Why? What does this tell us about the act of seeing? Our preferences? How did we acquire those preferences? Is the way we see tied to clichés and patterns? Can we transcend those? How much attention does a painting require? Is that attention warranted? Or do we shift gears because we are standing in an art institution? Who is spinning whose wheels here?
American painter Rob Ryman (1930-2019), who passed away recently, asked these questions meticulously, especially in connection to painting itself. For several decades he parsed white painting by going through all possible constellations of carriers (wood, canvas, …), paints (white, matt, glossy, …), application (pastose, shading, …) and mounting (on the wall, with or without distance, …). He was interested in clarification, elucidation, and composure. He was understood as the last painter, but also as a representative of Minimal Art, Concept Art and Abstraction. In its somberness, his painting became – almost unexpectedly – poetic, full of the promise of autonomy.
All of this can equally be said of the works of Genoveva Filipovic. Time has passed; the world has changed. New questions, many of them the same, but still they must be answered in a new context. We rise morning after morning and the wheels keep turning. The artist’s despair facing the grandeur of ancient ruins merges with the viewer’s despair facing the grandeur of ancient ruins. Shiva 2019 ✆ demonstrates this full of earnest lightheartedness. Perhaps a space appears that some call poetry. Others call it autonomy.
Genoveva Filipovic, *1986, lives and works in New York.