Nature to Culture

Youssef Hani
Oct 21, 2014 3:22AM

In The Flatbed Picture Plane, Leo Steinberg writes: “I tend to regard the tilt of the picture plane from vertical to horizontal as expressive of the most radical shift in the subject matter of art, the shift from nature to culture.”

This curatorial entry is focusing on this particular shift, namely the one from nature to culture, which takes place as the picture plane goes from a vertical to a horizontal position. Indeed, the works presented are embracing the two-dimensionality of the canvas, and are not trying to create any illusion of three-dimensionality (like it was the case during the Renaissance for instance). In that sense, their flatness suggests that even if they are for the most part hang on a vertical wall (except Turrell’s Rendering for Aten Reign), they all allude to some kind of horizontality.

This use of the horizontality helps make the shift from “nature to culture”. Indeed, the horizontal picture plane (or the “flatbed picture plane” as Steinberg would refer to it), gives the viewer the illusion of seeing the artworks from above, and as a result, the viewer feels like an all-seeing character. Consequently, the viewer is no longer passive before the artwork (like it was the case in previous periods such as the Renaissance), but rather engaged in it. For instance, the works that are present in this entry allude to the everyday life, which makes the viewer feel even more a part of the artwork. Besides, the subject matters, or the media and supports are allusions to objects that are “universal” (that everyone sees at least once during a day, such as a table, a bed, a newspaper, et cetera). The viewer is so used to being exposed to those “universal” objects that seeing them in the artwork give an impression of being a part of the work.

Youssef Hani