David Ginton: The Name of the Painting
Recipient of the Rappaport Prize for an Established Israeli Artist, 2019
The exhibition spans five decades of artistic practice, from 1973 to 2020, but it is centered on the verso paintings created by David Ginton in the past twenty years. These works push the linguistic preoccupation in Ginton's oeuvre to the limit, a process which has been rooted from the very outset in 1960s and 1970s European and American conceptual art.
The engagement with language was already at the core of Ginton's work in the early 1970s. It was manifested, for example, in photographs documenting physical acts, illustrating Hebrew idioms, such as Burying One's Head in the Sand, Burning Oneself in Scalding Water, and Jumping into Stormy Waters. These works embodied the absurd violence sparked in the encounter between language and image — violence which was later enhanced in political contexts: In 1973, Ginton inquired how to make Art in a Time of War; he subsequently exhibited bullet-pierced art books and photographs of buildings at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and in the 1990s he inserted a bullet in a series of paintings depicting the Israeli flag, thereby indicating the complexity of making art in light of the Israeli political reality following the 1967 war.
Two key works were made before Ginton's return to Israel from a sojourn abroad, with the outbreak of the 1973 (Yom Kippur) war: one features him kneeling before the door of Joseph Beuys's Düsseldorf house (In Front of Beuys’s House), and the other—standing in the shadow of a replica of Michelangelo's sculpture David in Florence (David and I). These photographic works preceded another recurrent avenue, touching on art-making in the periphery, which continued in the early 1990s with the flag works, which a "local adaptation" of seminal modernist works by Jasper Johns, Lucio Fontana, and others, using quotes and appropriation. This practice was further elaborated in the 2000s with ironic titles, such as The English Painter, given to a group of paintings that quote and distort texts from the back covers of books.
Since 1994, the key motif in Ginton's oeuvre has been the "back" of the painting, initially in photographs of the reverse side of paintings from the collection of Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and later, in the 2000s, in verso paintings alluding to the trompe l'oeil tradition in Western painting. These paintings depict the (alleged) backs of fictitious paintings, bearing the paintings' titles alongside texts—excerpts from theoretical essays and books about art, biblical verses, Midrashim, as well as invented texts. In presenting the text appearing on what seems to be the back side of a painting, Ginton brings the literal-conceptual aspect underlying his work to the fore. The painting's reversal is interpreted in these paintings in terms of revealment and concealment, questioning the work's elusive existence and its ability to reveal itself to the viewer, while concurrently hinting at theological aspects associated with seeing the face of God and with death.
Through the title of the exhibition — "The Name of the Painting" — Ginton points out the unique status of the title in his verso paintings: "The name precedes the painting," he explains. "The paintings are spawned by their names. Once a name comes up that is worthy of a new painting, the painting has already been conceived to a large extent, and it only remains to realize it in paint: a painting depicting the back of a painting. A painting is born from words, as it were."
The exhibition and catalogue were made possible through the generosity of the Bruce and Ruth Rappaport Foundation and the support of the Israeli lottery council for arts