This inaugural issue of Selva: A Journal of the History of Art is dedicated to the French artists’ group Supports/Surfaces and, more broadly, to theorizations of painting in the aftermath of the uprisings of May 1968.
Supports/Surfaces only existed as a formal association from 1970 to 1972 (there were already scissions as early as 1971). Its impact on French art was out of proportion to its relatively short lifespan, however: the group lent a common name and, briefly, a common sense of purpose to a circle of about a dozen artists, most of them painters, in effect producing a shared horizon of practice and debate. The Supports/Surfaces trademark was a marriage of rigorously abstract art to both strident left-wing politics as well as an ambitious theoretical vocabulary, the latter drawn from the work of Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, and Jacques Lacan, among others. In particular, Supports/Surfaces cultivated a relationship with the authors and editors of the journal Tel Quel, arguably the preeminent intellectual avant-garde of the post-’68 moment. In 1971, Supports/Surfaces in turn founded its own journal, Peinture, cahiers théoriques, which is notable for having been perhaps the only periodical in history devoted specifically to the theorization of painting. The group’s artist/writers sought to apply the most sophisticated theoretical tools then available to an account of painting as a “specific contradiction” within the ensemble of practices that make up capitalist society. Although traces of this artistic, intellectual, and political world have percolated into art historical consciousness in recent years, there has until now been a notable deficit in attention paid to Supports/Surfaces in comparison to American artistic phenomena of the same period.
The aim of this issue is thus in a certain way quite simple: it is to show that in France of the late 1960s and early 1970s there existed a complex discourse on painting that has yet to receive its due in Anglophone scholarship. We have broken with a widespread tendency to bracket out—not to say repress—textual production in the Supports/Surfaces orbit. In short, we take the group’s various accounts of itself and of painting at large quite seriously, which is not to say uncritically.
Our aim is to illuminate a moment in which the specter of revolution haunted the most unassuming of aesthetic gestures: a stain on a canvas, an empty stretcher, a dishcloth pinned to a wall.
The editors of Selva: A Journal of the History of Art