Like many great art narratives, the tale of Supports/Surfaces has an air of improbability about it. After the euphoria of May 1968 implanted the notion in a generation of French youth that all was possible, that it was their task to dismantle every received structure, what were artists to do? Only a fool, or a Stalinist, of which there were many in the French Communist Party, would remain content with simple-minded protest art. In the era of Barthes, Derrida, Althusser and Lacan, after becoming enthralled by Mao's Cultural Revolution, how could you be satisfied with anything less than the thorough deconstruction of your medium and the ideologies underlying it? And so, with the demolitions of Of Grammatologyechoing in their minds, the promises of the barricades and visionary graffiti nagging in the background, a rising wave of radical French artists embraced . . . painting!
Painting? That most Establishment of mediums, which many people at the time thought thoroughly compromised and artistically exhausted? To grasp the perversity of Supports/Surfaces's placing painting at the center of its practice, take a look at comparable movements in other countries, such as Arte Povera in Italy or Post-Minimalism in the U.S.—for nearly all the artists associated with these tendencies the whole point was to escape painting by every possible means.
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