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Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting

Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting. London: Phaidon Press, 2011, 352 pages, ISBN: 9780714861609

By Shana Beth Mason

It has been a decade since the publication of the influential book, Vitamin P. A thorough, visually tingling investigation (juried by critics, institutional professionals and artists) into the practices of the newest generation of painters; its credibility in the contemporary art consciousness hermetically sealed in its 352-page publication by Phaidon. The volume continues to serve as both reference and reflection not only to and for painters, but to living contemporary artists hailing from every conceivable medium to date.

This compendium found its way into the hands of the most heightened personalities in the art world (administering a sorely needed dose of current critical perspective on painting) down to the shelves of students’ studios worldwide (being an instantaneous reference and inspirational oasis). The challenge ten years later: repeating history.

Vitamin P2 aims to qualitatively assess contemporary painting’s forward motion, maintaining a buoyancy in the wake of new media (video, installation, performance, digital) and its impactful presence in commercial and academic spheres. Inarguably the oldest professional means of creative expression, painting continues to inform and stir new modes of production built upon a period of hybrid aesthetics. Introduced, by critic and visiting Goldsmiths lecturer, Barry Schwabsky, the new volume is equally ambitious in scope and perceptive prowess. An omnipresent struggle within contemporary criticism (especially, as Arthur Danto would suggest, one enduring after the ‘last’ great fundamental shift in new media concepts, culminating and consequently terminating with Warhol), is digging deeply to find an unseen angle; to walk a thinning tightrope of groundbreaking collective knowledge. Painting, alone, has seen every manner of written and oral examination, but the inevitable continuation of (what will surely be known as) the ‘Vitamin series’ will doubtlessly ensure that any and every contribution to the field is given its proper and due attention.

Schwabsky points out the impossibility of bracketing painting into a cohesive, singular statement and that diluting man’s, arguably, first autonomous creative format down to a profound statement (likely labored longer over the occasion of its creation than its actual informative content) would be a disservice to both artist and academic, alike. He asks, “But how reductive would that be? Nothing could be more contrary to the spirit of art than to put on the blinders in order to feel a false security of judgment.”

In as much totality as can possibly be achieved in one essay, Schwabsky provides a brief but sensitive approach to reasserting the dynamism and necessity of painting as a creative paradigm; even as artists seem to drift further away from literary storytelling, painters still wield a unique, almost elemental passion in communicating their imaginative observations. The much-anticipated encore to the dazzling opening of contemporary painting’s new gospel, Vitamin P2 provides foundational visual and intellectual guideposts to contemporary painting. The product of a rigorous, thoughtful selection process by those held in the highest regard to the visual arts industry, Vitamin P2 recognizes its importance to the critical field, but earns a self-praised thanks to a smooth, readable introduction and striking new works.

Shana Beth Mason is an art consultant and critic based in Miami. She holds a Master of Arts degree with a focus on modern and contemporary art from Christie’s Education London.