This exhibition was born out of a conversation between the art dealers Andrew Dubow and Francisco Barreiros Cardoso and the artist Francesco João (b. 1987, Milan): a triangle between New York, Lisbon, and Milan. The paintings by João are installed in the halls of a Milanese Art Nouveau building from the early 1900s, one of the first designed by Ulisse Stacchini, who would become famous for the majestic Central Station and San Siro Stadium, both Milanese landmarks.
Paintings, paintings, paintings. As with many artists trained in Italian art academies, it is perhaps only natural that João cultivates a form of insubordination. But it’s not any sort of fury directed at “history” or the (likewise Milanese) Futurist movement. Rather, it’s a disruptive playfulness—a sentiment not unlike a child’s desire to pick apart the gears of a beloved game. The artist uses structural-material elements as parts of an expressive vocabulary. The canvas might remain intact but with different layers and degrees of tension; color may be deposited on the frames only; the stretcher can itself become a pictorial element. The formalist credo is bypassed not through awareness of environment, as in site-specific painting, but through manipulations of the foundational architectonics.
Painting, painting, painting: its cyclical dying is such an inconvenience. What energy dispersal, what a drag. “I like paintings; I don’t like painters,” João quips. His practice resonates with the words of Yve-Alain Bois regarding his misunderstood essay “Painting: The Task of Mourning” (1986): “The death of painting has been on order since Manet, and the task of every modern artist is to try to achieve it. That is what modernism as I know it is all about.”1 So, the death-of-painting assumption is not an endgame; it is a fresh push that keeps the pendulum swinging.
Painters, painters, painters. João has in his toolbox techniques from modernism such as color fields, monochromes, the use of chance (some portrayed subjects are arbitrarily chosen from images friends message him; some of the works on display use both house painter’s white and the expensive stuff). Sometimes the tricks he plays with classical ideas of “the author” are less visible and more insidious—for instance reworking art historically charged tropes in a flirty hide-and-seek, as when he approaches landscape painting by means of exploding images produced by a NASA Mars rover, or when a frame is stripped bare of almost everything but the core sustaining structure, suggesting sacred art.
In the next few days, João will refurbish and move in to the apartment you’re visiting. The effect is fascinating; the unpainted walls welcome with unexpected balance the minimalistic, yet nuanced, aesthetics of the works and seemingly effortless treatment of materials—raw canvas, wood, acrylic, tarlatan. But on top of that, the visitor may perceive a subtler correspondence between the environment, ready to be rethought, and the results of the artist’s loving assaults on painting. In their shared naked austerity, both are sites of possibility and transformation.
- Francesco Tenaglia, 2021 -
Note 1. Arthur Danto, Yve-Alain Bois, Thierry de Duve, Isabelle Graw, David Reed, David Joselit, and Elisabeth Sussman, “The Mourning After: A Roundtable,” Artforum, March 2003, referencing Yve-Alain Bois, “Painting: The Task of Mourning,” in Painting as Model (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990).