The Invention of Painting | Group exhibition at Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art | December 2021
The exhibition title is taken from a common theme in 18 th century painting – that of the Corinthian
maiden Butades tracing her lover’s shadow on the wall, as he prepares to go to war. These paintings
follow a 2 nd century story by Pliny the Elder’s about the invention of painting by a young woman, the
daughter of a potter, whose predicament and ingenuity have made her the inventor of painting.
The exhibition The Invention of Painting wishes to show how painters invent, each in his or her own
way, the art of painting and do not accept painting as a “natural” and conventional universal method,
one that they simply have to learn and master, in a more or less distinct way than others.
Like any myth, Pliny the Elder’s myth of the origin of painting does not claim to be, nor can it be,
historically accurate. We know that cave paintings significantly predate ancient Greece. Butades’s
invention offers something else: It provides an urgent answer to a unique situation, one that centers on
love, parting, and looming death. We can assume that under different circumstances, a different
manner of painting would have been invented.
Unlike the manner of painting invented by Butades, which was ingenious but technically simple, the
painters featured in this exhibition are characterized by an invention of painting that does not reveal the
technique or traces of its making. The absence of any trace of the painting instrument is not new.
Already in 17 th Flemish art, some painters worked in a way that made it impossible to understand how
their paintings were made just by looking at them. This painting style evolved from the desire to achieve
radical naturalism. The world is not comprised of brushstrokes, and neither should its depiction. With
the invention of photography, efforts of this kind shifted from naturalism to photorealism: Painting that
emulates the photographic image. Conversely, most schools and styles of Modern painting championed
a focus on the traces left by the painting instruments and wished to expose the painting’s underlying
mechanisms. Since then, it seems that anyone can paint. Even my kid.
The exhibition The Invention of Painting features paintings that foil attempts to decipher how they
were made. Their making remains a mystery to the viewer, who while looking at them, struggles or fails
completely to “recreate” how they were made in his or her mind. The paintings are imbued with the
magic of enigma and mystery that seem to have been lost. Painting is essentially a traditional craft, but
nevertheless, one that can be invented again and again. The need for the invention of painting at this
time is more urgent than ever.