Untitled (94C63), 1994

Included in the exhibition: Echoes of Laocoön

“Tim Maguire’s paintings occupy an ambivalent position in regard to their source material. Never does it seem that he is engaging in the trite Post-Modernist game of requotation and appropriation … instead, he treats the art of the past (whether it is the recent past of post-war Modernism, or the activities of Dutch genre painters of the 1700’s) as something to be recaptured, not from the linear flow of history, but from a field of possibilities.” 

– Adrian Searle

Tim Maguire’s series of paintings inspired by 1960s Spatialist works by Lucio Fontana are relatively unknown in Australia. Here, he is mostly celebrated for his impressive blown-up reproductions of 17th century still lifes, executed with the technically complex colour separation method. The Fontana paintings are decidedly European – and not only because of their ‘subject’. The works were mostly painted in France, where the artist has a second studio, but more importantly, they display a theoretical engagement with the medium of painting that has never found the same level of appreciation in Australia as it did in Europe and the United States.

Tim Maguire, Untitled, 1994, Lucio Fontana slit painting at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia


Untitled (94C63), 1994
signed, titled and dated on the reverse
acrylic on canvasboard
38.3 by 46.3 cm.

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This extraordinary body of work has the rare quality of being simultaneously “abundantly simple and maddeningly complex”, a phrase used by the late John Baldessari to describe his own practice, and one that seems particularly relevant to Tim Maguire’s work. At first sight, Maguire’s slit paintings could easily be mistaken for Lucio Fontana’s canvasses – and they were in fact mistaken as such by Italian customs officials, when one of the paintings was confiscated on grounds of illegal export of cultural heritage. The small scale, monochromatic canvasses, with Fontana’s iconic tagli (cuts) and bucchi (holes) are easy to recognise. Where the ruptured canvas protrudes towards the viewer, a subtle shadow is cast next to it, whilst the opposite side of the slit reveals a subtle reflection of light. But that is where the abundant simplicity ends, as the viewer soon realises that the paintings are not by Fontana, and more surprisingly, that there are no cuts, no shadows, no highlights. What seemed so obvious at first now reveals itself as illusionary depth on a flat surface.

This is where the complexity of the paintings starts. What does it mean to flatten Fontana’s three-dimensional canvasses? After all, Maguire does not appropriate the Italian maestro’s own technique – slashing the canvas would have been much quicker than painstakingly creating the illusion of three-dimensional depth. Although appropriation certainly had become a hallmark of 90s postmodern painting, there is more at stake here. Lucio Fontana’s paintings were so radical precisely because he treated the flat canvas as a three-dimensional object; he wanted his art not to be a window to an imaginary reality but to be physically part of our three-dimensional world. Maguire’s rendering of this radical breakthrough back into a flat illusionistic space should not be seen as a parody, but as a reflection on how contemporary image culture has impacted our experience of these works. Lucio Fontana’s paintings are so iconic that even when their whole purpose is undermined, they still work; even when rendered completely flat, the cuts are still symbolic for Fontana’s radical gesture.

Tim Maguire Lucio Fontana slit painting  at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia

Lucio Fontana in his studio in Milan, 1964. Photo by Ugo Mulas

Tim Maguire was not the only artist who was interested in this flattening of the surface. In similar vein, Glenn Brown had painted copies of thickly impastoed paintings by Frank Auerbach and Karel Appel; Andreas Gursky produced blown-up photographs of textural details in Vincent Van Gogh and John Constable paintings; and Gerhard Richter painted flattened copies of his own gestural canvasses. Each of these artists was interested in the significance of the physical nature of painting in an age of mechanical (and now digital) reproduction. Over the course of the twentieth century, art has increasingly been consumed in reproduction (books, television, and today over the internet), and as a result the flattened, photographic image became more prominent than real paintings. This phenomenon was labelled the simulacrum by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, and defined as the situation wherein representation becomes more dominant than reality.

Tim Maguire, Untitled, 1994, Lucio Fontana slit painting  at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia

Tim Maguire’s work should be contextualised within this same postmodern tradition that occupied artists in Europe and the United States. In fact, these paintings are the product of the simulacrum – he knew Fontana’s work from reproductions, but had not seen the paintings in the flesh (they are largely absent in Australian collections, with the exception of one painting at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne). Interestingly, Tim Maguire’s paintings were not copied after real Fontana works, but imagined, based on images he had come across in books. And whilst some look exactly like Fontana’s paintings, others such as Untitled (94C63) are more loose interpretations of them. This adds another interesting aspect of the series, namely the distribution and consumption of culture in a globalised world. Painted in the 1990s, before the internet made images instantly accessible across the world, printed reproductions of foreign artworks were the closest to the real thing. Tim Maguire’s Fontana paintings therefore also embody the Australian condition – a strong intellectual link with the European tradition, paired with an immense physical distance.

Tim Maguire was born in the United Kingdom, and lives and works in between his studios in Sydney and the Loire Valley in France. He studied at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf under the Dutch conceptual artist Jan Dibbets (1984), and has exhibited internationally with solo exhibitions at the Chisenhale Gallery in London, Urs Meile in Zurich and Ikon Gallery in Birmingham amongst others. His works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, and the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, amongst others.

Selected solo exhibitions
2017 Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
2016 Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney
2014 Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville
2013 Deutsche Bank, Sydney
2011 Andreas Binder, Munich
2011 Von Lintel Gallery, New York
2009 Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
2008 Hewer Street Studios, London
2008 Galerie Couvrat Desvergnes, Paris
2008 Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
2004 Galerie Urs Meile, Lucerne
2003 Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria
2002 Mori Gallery, Sydney
2001 John Curtin Gallery, Perth
2000 Galerie Cokkie Snoei, Rotterdam
2000 Oxo Tower Wharf, London
1997 Andreas Hecker Gallerie, Cologne
1994 Gallery Apunto, Amsterdam
1993 Brooke Fitzsimmons, London

Selected public collections
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Parliament House Collection, Canberra
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Nuremberg
Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Victoria
Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria
Deakin University, Melbourne
Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne
Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane
The University of Melbourne, Melbourne
The University of Sydney
Darwin College of Advanced Education, Darwin
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria, Australia
University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane
The British Museum, London
Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart
Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

See full list of exhibitions