The Ellsworth Kelly extravaganza at Matthew Marks (522 West 22nd Street; 526 West 22nd Street; and 526 West 24th Street, through April 16) similarly challenges Joselit's theory. The Reliefs—two stacked canvases, one black and one white—by the 87-year-old modern master are new, but some of the drawings on 22nd Street date back to the '50s. Kelly is perhaps the best proof that activating the space around the painting and beyond the wall—and into a world of referenced images beyond—isn't a new phenomenon.
After hitting Chelsea, I attended a lecture by T.J. Clark, a pioneering Marxist art historian with '60s Situationist pedigree. More than 500 people packed an auditorium on 23rd Street to hear Clark talk about Picasso's Guernica (1937).
Clark described how, by creating a history painting, Picasso knew he was engaged in an anachronistic enterprise. And yet, he was depicting "heroic actors living through a world historical change." The language was romantic; the lecture, surprisingly formalist. But for Clark, painting remains the site of radical struggle. He tied Guernica to the present as a war-protest emblem, reproduced in posters and street murals in India, Paris, and outside an army base in North Carolina. Painting's problematic status as a collectible commodity was not mentioned.