Friday, September 16, 2011

Tableau: Painting Photo Object conference

Tableau: Painting Photo Object

Friday 28 October 2011, 10.30–17.30
Tate Modern
Saturday 29 October 2011, 10.30–17.30

Why do so many contemporary artists, working across all media (paintings, photographs, objects, installations, live art), build on pictorial traditions of image construction to set the scene for new narratives? Variously described as tableau, dispositif and apparatus, these related conditions have been analysed by some of the most incisive thinkers on contemporary art and form the subject of this symposium.
The word tableau does not seamlessly translate into painting as witnessed in its central use in Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before 2008. It has come to stand for a series of discourses that address questions of artistic practice, the status of the art object and questions of spectatorship.
The centrality of tableau to recent discussions about photographic artistic practice is preceded by its presence in France in discussion around an expanded field in painting. Jean-François Chevrier has alluded to the return of tableau as a term and its possible implications in The Adventures of the Picture Form in the History of Photography. Here the idea of tableau as ‘image-object’ provides a means to explore a structural relationship between painting and photography as associated pictorial forms. In relation to this, the concepts of apparatus and dispositif (associated with Althusser, Foucault and Agamben) bear many structural similarities to these emerging formulations of the tableau where questions of ideology and signification are at work. The increasing use of all three terms in critical visual art practices is the basis for the papers in this conference.
Keynote presentations by Philip Armstrong, Fulvia Carnevale, Jean-François Chevrier, Michael Fried, Michael Newman and research papers by Moyra Derby, Adi Efal, Françis Gaube,Atsuhide Ito, Cédric Loire and Andrea Medjesi Jones.
In collaboration with Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London

With additional support from the Institut Français, London
Tate Modern Starr Auditorium
£30 (£20 concessions), booking required

For tickets book online
or call 020 7887 8888.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Video documentation of the papers for Fragments, Openness and Contradiction in Painting and Photography Research Symposiums

Each presentation is in 2 parts, click on the relevant link. For the transcript of Mick Finch's introduction click here.

Christina Cojuna
"Limit within Image"

Morya Derby
"Depth as Breadth in Rotation"

Adi Efal
"The two faces of the figure: plastic and philological"

Françis Gaube
"Thickness and Surface: towards a painterly space"

Atsuhide Ito
"Photographic fragments in contemporary painting"

Cédric Loire
"What do images do to painting, what does painting do to images?"

Andrea Medjesi Jones
"A Shock to Thought -- conditions of the emerging image."

Alexandra Oliver
"Illuminating Obscurity: an interpretation of the relationship between Jeff Wall and Manet."

Bettina Reiber
"Theorising Painting: Modernism, Hegel, Heidegger"

These symposia took place on Saturday 27 November 2010


Saturday 21 May 2011

Central Saint Martins

College of Art and


Click here for more details about the Tableau Project.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mick Finch's Introduction to Symposium 1

The background for this project is the longstanding debates around painting that have come to be known as the expanded field in painting, painting beside itself or peinture comme volume.

A widespread awareness of the idea of tableau perhaps first came to light in Yve-Alain Bois’s book Painting as Model and particularly in his reference to the two formalisms, distinguished as originating in Europe and the United States. However tableau was just an implication here. The two formalisms can be crudely characterised by Clement Greenberg’s idea of painterly specificity as centred around qualities of flatness and optical events, the contrasting European formulation being Hubert Damisch’s complex sense of thickness as being its defining property. The difference between these formulations can be read as a movement from an idea of painting to one of tableau.

In 2001 the exhibition, conference and book, As Painting: Division and Displacement, organised by Philip Armstrong, Laura Lisbon and Stephen Melville explored an American and largely French context of post war artistic practices that had as its backdrop the crisis engendered within painting by Minimalist art. Robert Morris and Donald Judd’s positions worked against a view of painting as being relational, internally composed and as antithetical to the relationship to the spectator they were advancing. Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood, which remains the key text about this critical moment, was arguably what many French artists in the 1960s and 70s were responding to; i.e. they were developing ‘painting’ that was critically addressing the Minimal Art paradigm. In many senses they were deploying ideas and practices that added up to an understanding of painting as tableau. As Painting explored this, through the exhibition as well as in the published texts, where translations into English of essays by Christian Bonnefoi and Jacques Lacan develop how tableau and thickness in painting can be understood.

It was in Michael Fried’s recent book Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before that the term tableau came into focus in a significant way. In chapter 6 Fried extensively uses Jean François Chevrier’s formulation of tableau, in relation to photography, as a defining term for his own understanding of what is at work in the large scale photography he is discusses. Some interesting distinctions arise out of Fried’s analysis of Chevrier’s formulation. The English translation of Chevrier’s text used picture form in place of tableau. Fried states he prefers tableau to picture, I think mainly because the photographers he is discussing factor in, the support, framing and display as material to the work as a whole; for example - light boxes in the case of Jeff Wall’s work. Chevrier’s position is perhaps more clear in his description of this genre of large-scale photography as being an object-image.

The key aspect for me in the opening up of this discussion around photography through the filter of tableau is the fact that it disrupts the dialectic of how photography and painting have been discussed in recent years. Large-scale photography has been seen to be using painting as a reference and painting has been seen to be a mediation of photography. One medium has been used for the terms upon which to discuss the qualities of another. The introduction of tableau into this displacement is the use of a third term and the question here is to understand what tableau might be; what is at play and stake in its use in such analysis.

This was the underlying territory for the first phase of this project. The working title for the conference to be held at Tate Modern was Tableau, dispositif, apparatus. My feeling has been that tableau is a compound of processes, mechanisms and qualities, something akin to a mechanism and resembles the way many French artists use dispositif to describe the underlying logic of their work. Apparatus is often utilised in a similar way. Dispositif brings into focus Foucault’s writings, his essay on Las Meninas can be thought of as a description of it as a dispositif. Similarly Althusser’s concept of apparatus serves a similar role in opening up tableau to wider discussion. The Tate conference will be organised around Michael Fried and Jean-François Chevrier working into tableau, Philip Armstrong into apparatus, Fulvia Carnevale into dispositif and Michael Newman somewhere between the three terms. Stephen Melville will also intervene in the tableau session.

There will be a second day, of the Tate conference, dedicated to research papers. The two symposia, of which this is the first, are in preparation for this second day.

I chose the quote from Jean-François Chevrier’s text The Adventures of the Picture Form in the History of Photography for the call for papers for the symposia and I think this needs some remarks. He says :

The restitution of the tableau form (to which the art of the 1960s and 1970s, it will be recalled, was largely opposed) has the primary aim of restoring the distance to the object-image necessary for the confrontational experience, but implies no nostalgia for painting and no specifically “reactionary” impulse. The frontality of the picture hung on or affixed to the wall and its autonomy as an object are not sufficient as finalities. It is not a matter of elevating the photographic image to the place and rank of painting. It is about using the tableau form to reactivate a thinking based on fragments, openness and contradiction, not the utopia of a comprehensive systematic order.

The reason for the choice of this text was to open up a wider discussion and one that brings into focus a complexity of positions. The quote from Chevrier is highly layered. On the one hand it distances itself from looking at photography in terms of a hierarchy of mediums – its status as painting. On the other hand he addresses fragments, openness and contradiction as somehow being in answer to the opposition to the tableau form of the art of 1960s and 1970s which I read here as Minimalist and Concept Art practices. The question here is if the opposing position to fragments, openness and contradiction can be stated as wholeness, closure and literalism? Interestingly Chevrier is opening up a position that in turn is critical of the Minimalist paradigm resembling Fried’s critical position as laid out in Art and Objecthood. However Chevrier here is not addressing an axis upon which specific objects and painting simply stand. He seems to be calling for a more complex analysis.

My feeling here is tableau offers ways of addressing the rhetorical qualities within a broadly pictorial field of practice. That it can mobilise an analysis grounded in complexities rather than the arguably theatrical properties of gestalt effects, unitary and primary forms. Composition seems to be at stake here. Both in Greenberg and Morris and Judd’s analysis auto, non and anti composition have increasingly become standard strategies for artists including painters. Tableau, dispositif and apparatus imply thinking of artistic forms as compositional objects. Words such as aggregation, distribution and parataxis give the possibility of reviewing composition in artistic practice not solely as the product of automatic process and displacement of authorship, but rather as material and immanent to the rhetorical address of pictorial forms. Diderot is in the background here, absorption and theatricality is at work here behind the scenes. The constructed nature of pictorial form brings to mind Leo Steinberg’s Flat Bed Picture Plane. Collage, montage, the reprographic and the autographic are material elements with the mechaism of the tableau. Another question here seems to be of the image. Where can it be materially said to stand in pictorial forms; how can we talk about how it operates, functions and its address?

Mick Finch

27 November 2010, Central Saint Martins.

Click here for more details about the Tableau Project.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tableau Project: Research Symposium 2, Saturday 21 May 2011, 10am – 4pm, 10am 4pm, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

Research Symposium 2
Fragments, Openness and Contradiction
in Painting and Photography

Red Lion Square Lecture Theatre,
Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design
Southampton Row, London, WC1B 4AP

There is public, free entry to this event but places are limited and must be reserved.
To make a reservation and for more information about the event email Mick Finch:
presentations by:
Moyra Derby (Unversity for the Creative Arts) – Depth as Breadth in Rotation.
Francis Gaube (Université catholique de Louvain) – Thickness and Surface: towards a painterly space.
Atsuhide Ito (Central Saint Martins) – The Promise of Painting: The Spectres of Baroque in Contemporary Painting.
Andrea Medjesi Jones (Anglia Ruskin University) – A Shock to Thought –conditions of the emerging image.
Alexandra Oliver (University of Pittsburgh) - Illuminating Obscurity: an interpretation of the relationship between Jeff Wall and Manet.

2 - 5pm round table discussion chaired by Beth Harland

The Tableau Project is a series of events culminating in a 2 day conference at Tate Modern in October 2011 that broadly addresses questions about the structuring of pictorial representation and forms. Keynote presentations from Philip Armstrong, Fulvia Carnevale, Jean François Chevrier and Michael Fried will take place on the 1st day of the Tate conference followed by a 2nd day of research papers, in preparation for this, there will be 2 research symposia. In addition there will be a 3 day seminar given by Jean François Chevrier. Where possible there will be general access to these events. The project is organised by Mick Finch and Jane Lee, The School of Art, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in collaboration with Paint Club. The project partners are Tate Modern and The London Consortium.
For information about the project and its schedule visit:
For all enquiries and to subscribe to the mailing list for updates about each event contact Mick Finch: