In 2009 the Museum of Modern Art made a major announcement concerning its displays that was dutifully reported by the New York Times: the chief curator of painting and sculpture, Ann Temkin, had decided to remove the frames from the museums collection of Abstract Expressionist paintings, thus freeing the paintings from the domestication of the gallery space.
Edges are limits. Limits are exposed through questioning. Uncovering and questioning limits in painting is a process that is akin to questioning the limits of the social, political, and personalworking painting at the margins or the center; top down or bottom up; visible or invisible; surface conditions and underneaths.
The sides of the paintings are commonly seen as trivial and frivolous. Painting them could be considered unsophisticated; they simply are not an important part of the work. Sides are usually covered with a frame or left bare, with the remnants of the artists process still visible.
I write about the edge in my own painting as a way of situating myself in the world and figuring out how to receive it.
Carnwaths large-scale paintings feature her personal vocabulary of faces, vases, candlesticks, sinking ships, blocks of color, and constellations, while placing written messages squarely in front of her viewers. Notably, Carnwath also scrawls the titles of her paintings down the left and right edges of her canvases which she always displays unframed, something I wanted to learn more about.
The first time I saw, in an art conservation studio, the unframed edges of a 16th-century portrait, it felt something like having accidentally seen undressed a distinguished, older man in my professional field. (It was, of course, an old master painting). I was embarrassed for both of us.
On one of the prints he designed in support of the 1968 student protests in France, Asger Jorn scrawled: break the frame that suffocates the image.
With the notable exception of the brilliant Beverly Fishman, who encouraged us to question all forms of painting, my education didnt really consider the sides of paintings. They were painted whitethat ever-problematic stand-in for neutralityor stained by action on the front, but more often simply ignored.
Early in 1969, in my first years in New York, I decided that I was going to leave the frontal surface of the painting blank, using only the sides of the stretchers to paint on. I was breaking away from what I felt painting had become by then: an altogether tired formalist marking of the frontal plane which no longer appeared to offer significant new options.