Asger Jorn, the great Danish artist and mastermind of the CoBrA movement, always had a zinger up his sleeve. He famously sent a mordant telegram to Harry F. Guggenheim, refusing the Guggenheim Prize with a single sentence: “Go to hell with your money, Bastard!” Jorn titled one of his most famous modifications—his term for painting on top of anonymous thrift store canvases—The Avant Garde Won’t Give Up. And in speaking about the voracious cultural consumption required of the creative act, he declared, “Painting is painting’s favorite food,” encapsulating the vital role that art history plays in most artists’ practice.


Jorn’s quip serves as both inspiration and exposition for Painting is Painting’s Favorite Food: Art History as Muse, the debut presentation at South Etna Montauk, opening July 16, 2020in the Village of Montauk on the East End of Long Island. Curated by Alison M. Gingeras, this exhibition riffs on Jorn’s cheeky turn of phrase to explore the various ways artists deploy art history as their central muse. The show includes works by Derrick Adams,Glenn Brown,Scott Covert,John Currin,Jesse Edwards,Hadi Fallahpisheh,Rachel Feinstein, Luis Flores, Doreen Garner,Clarity Haynes,Lyle Ashton Harris, Andrew LaMar Hopkins,Jane Kaplowitz,Karen Kilimnik,Dennis Kardon,Chris Oh,Borna Sammak,Peter Saul,Sally Saul,Betty Tompkins,Piotr Uklański,andLynette Yiadom-Boakye.


Painting is Painting’s Favorite Foodreveals a range of strategies deployed by artists metabolizing the past in their work. In the vein of radical revision, Betty Tompkins overpaints a reproduction of Susanna and the Elders (1610) by Artemisia Gentileschi, with text from a published account of a woman’s experience of sexual assault, thus layering contemporary feminist ire onto an already gendered Old Master image. Other works on view, such as the medieval self-portrait-as-death masks made by Rachel Feinstein and Scott Covert’s conflation of painting with grave rubbing, resuscitate archaic forms and antique practices.


Explicit art historical quotation can be seen in the reprisal of a Manet still life that serves as the basis for Dennis Kardon’s canvas Illusions of Security, and in the more direct appropriation-homage of Sam McKinniss’s lovingly repainted still life d’aprèsFantin-Latour. Chris Oh painstakingly reproduces Joos van Cleve’s Virgin and Child(ca. 1525) on a bouquet of faux fruit, creating an uncanny transposition of Primitive Flemish painting with plastic kitsch. And with incredible virtuosity, Glenn Brown subjects Fragonard’s The Toilet of Venus(c. 1760) to a process of strange metamorphosis, resizing, reshaping, and morphing the original source image and transforming the palette into otherworldly hues of green, blue, and purple.