Wednesday, April 04, 2007

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Abstraction's Turn Again

I have two different ideas I want to bring up in response to the resurgence of abstraction in painting. It's on the cover of ArtNews magazine this month...so it must be true. Actually, I've been talking about its return for a while now (all the signs were pointing that direction), but the points I'd like to make include:

1. The influence of computer-based ideas on this new breed of abstraction
2. What this return represents with regards to fashion and the market.

But first, supporting my notion in yesterday's post that the advent of new technology via which artists can create digital products does not automatically ring the death knell for painting, is this:
And then there are the shows like “Big Bang! Abstract Painting for the 21st Century,” at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts (through the 22nd of this month), which opened with an explosion of new abstract art. The works in the show, by 15 mostly emerging artists, were inspired by nothing less than “computer technology, cosmology, quantum physics, information theory, genetics, complexity theory, remote sensing, and other sets of current scientific visual languages,” according to exhibition curators Nick Capasso and Lisa Sutcliffe. Where Barbara Takenaga depicts an imploding—or expanding—universe, creating a spectral buzz, Cristi Rinklin draws on computer imagery for her painterly abstractions and explains that “technology recalibrates how we imagine the world.”
Indeed, as I noted yesterday, new technology is not an important advance in and of itself with regards to artmaking. Its importance lies in how it helps us see things in a new way, and even though it can produce new media that in turn produce new art objects, the notion that artists working in other, older media should drop those media and focus instead on the new media ignores the fact that their medium was simply a choice, among many available, the artist made in order to express him/herself. New ways to imagine the world provide new insights, not new mandates for media choice for final art objects.

But why is abstraction returning now. ArtNews explores this question (and I hope they'll forgive me for quoting a large-ish chunk of text here:
We are seeing both the return of abstraction and a new abstraction. In the last few months alone, there has even been an exhibition of figurative sculptor Audrey Flack’s abstract paintings from the 1950s at the Rider University Art Gallery in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; not to mention an Albers and Moholy-Nagy show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Whitney’s Mark Grotjahn exhibition.

But why now? The resurgence could in part be a response to contemporary life—to globalization and the desire for a universal language, to the technological revolution, to new materials, and to the endless pursuit of something novel. Abstract pictures may convey a more comprehensible range of associations than personal, narrative pictures can. Or it could be a form of nostalgia.

It may well be that the “art world is still dominated by an interest in images across the board,” as Gary Garrels, chief curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, suggests. While he acknowledges that there seems to be a healthy regard for abstract work, he says, “I don’t know if it’s been more or less since Pop art took Abstract Expressionism off its pedestal.” What he has definitely seen among the new abstract painters is an “interest in going back to the roots of modernism and the fundamental issues of modernism—to Mondrian and Kandinsky.”
[...]

Linda Norden, an independent curator and writer currently advising on the 2008 Whitney Biennial, sees the renewed interest in abstraction as one of two concurrent impulses. “There’s a documentary impulse that provides some way of responding directly to the world and a corollary urge to abstraction, which aims at the emotional fallout and underlying forces driving those actions,” she says. “Both impulses speak to the state of the world and change—the big millennial questions as well as the issues of the present.” She finds that much of the work today is “more in the spirit of earlier 20th-century artists like Malevich, where abstraction emerged out of something both real and revolutionary, like war, industrial technology, and the radical social, economic, and cultural upheavals endemic throughout Europe at the time.”
All of that makes sense to me and seems likely. But I suspect another factor is at play here as well. I suspect an expanding art market (one in which a good number of new collectors are getting their feet wet, learning about art, and trying on for size what it feels like to discuss their new acquisitions in their home) sees a good deal of enthusiasm for representational work (i.e., work it's easier for new collectors to talk about or defend as a "good" purchase). When that new crop of collectors matures in their tastes and becomes much more comfortable with their choices, they feel more confident in purchasing/discussing abstraction. It's a theory anyway. It's not entirely supported by the fact that the art market seems to still be expanding, but then look at the work in the newer markets (China, etc.)...most of the hot selling work is representational.

I'm not asserting that a market factor explains the resurgence of interest entirely. I do think the political atmosphere is contributing to the changing winds. Folks across the board, who were all gung ho for war after 9/11 are now slowing down, being much more contemplative, and seeking spiritual solace. Abstraction is one gateway into that place, IMO.

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25 Comments:

Anonymous JEC said...

I think the influence of "computer-based ideas" can't be underestimated. Many of us are responding to--and trying to comprehend--a completely new way of communicating. Actually, several new ways of communicating. In addition, we're revising our understanding of how the human mind works based on the ways data is organized and presented and the ways networks are formed, expand, contract and change. And, of course, there is the mind-blowing amount of information available to us on any topic, in any form, at any time.

Many of us can't help but become obsessed with all of this. It's too large and complex to grasp fully, but we can attempt to find a visual representation or impression of some piece of the whole.

4/04/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

My Chelsea wanderings, limited though they must be, point less at a move towards abstraction and more at a move towards obsessive/compulsive art, representational or otherwise. Barbara Takenaga -- whose work I first saw a few years ago -- is a perfect example. Her paintings are mind-bogglingly detailed and repetitive (in a good way). Tara Donovan is another. I've been seeing more and more of this kind of thing; and also insanely dense drawings. Kelli Williams, for example.

4/04/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Desperately searching for new words in English to truly describe sculpture and the human emotions attached to it I came across you blog via goole .
It is a delight to read other people discussing “new Art” or at least new media in visual Art. Expressing the feelings I posses for all forms of sculpture is unbelievably difficult with the wholly inadequate vocabulary there seems to be on this subject.
I will follow your blog regularly if I may. I will also look more closely again at your archive and Gallery.
I had detect a move toward painting and more realistic representation in contemporary fine art. I shall continue to observe the fluctuations of “taste” through the ages with an greying wry smile avoiding confrontation and enjoying the fray from the touch line!
The discussion on whether Photography is truly Art continues believe it or not across the internet in Art forums by the thousand (slight exaggeration). As for computer technology I am constantly approached by “bright young things” with amazing visual images made with software designed to “make Art” without the polluting influence of a human, skill, thought or touch.
As for “Abstraction” of the kind in 1910 to 1920, I see little sign in mainland Europe of any change. It seems that Abstract remains king but I may be wrong.
True, in England we are now so cosmopolitan that it is often difficult to “see” at all.
I wish you a happy Easter break (please forgive any “political” error here).

4/04/2007 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger hlowe said...

Abstract painters don't care much about which way the wind blows but I suspect you are right --a healthy market spawns more intellectual freedom, thus more abstract art--hurrah!

4/04/2007 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark Stone said...

Issues concerning abstraction and new media have been a central tenet for a number of painters since the 90s. The problem today is that so many have given up the hard work of coming up with new visual conceptualizations - instead relying on electronic programs to determine the look of their work - using the program(usually photoshop) then translating it to canvas. Or worse yet continuing Postmodern materiality and reproduction - laying out "pictures" across a bulletin board then hyping the physical materiality - paint, brush strokes, goop, fetish finishes - whatever. There are few new ideas for altering abstraction and that in combination with the cyclical nature of fashion continues to revive old "abstraction" every couple of years - so we get the similar cast of characters with similar looking work over and over again. Abstraction was a radical force of change and innovation in the last century but postmodernism has done that in by tying illustration to decoration under the rubric of a meta-critique. Abstraction should reach for something more visually hard and substantive - beyond Postmodernism and beyond "spiritual solace." The new century demands it.

4/04/2007 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I suspect that there is enough work out there in the world to make a case for any kind of a movement at any time. We're not looking at a resurgence of abstraction - we're looking at a resurgence of critical attention to abstraction. What causes critical attentions is baffling to me.

4/04/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Computer based art in both figuration and bstraction is a double edged sword:
users should be wary, the whiff of very obvious photoshop is a turn off- it looks dated very quickly once other artists and collectors start to catch on when a computer program is doing the creative work (think swirl or any of the other filters), and especially when new technology replaces the old.

Remember "Tron" the movie?
How about Atari "Asteroids"...
yeah, just saying....

-hlta

4/04/2007 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous JEC said...

To clarify, in my comment above I'm not referring to art created on the computer, manipulated by the computer or looking like something computer-generated. The work I'm talking about could include any of the above, but is more likely just "about" the influence of computers and new technologies. The best of this kind of work involves a lot of research, thought and insight, IMO.

4/04/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

EW, hate to break this to you, but you're behind the times. It's Wednesday. Abstraction had a dramatic one-day comeback, and now people are ready for the next big thing.

But here's the good news. Today they have tortilla soup at Bergamot Cafe! Better get there early, or all they'll have left is lentil.

4/04/2007 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's Wednesday.

You know...I tossed a coin. Heads, I use "If It's Wednesday..." and be accurate calendar-wise. Or Tails, I use "If It's Tuesday..." and be more true to the original reference, hence strengthening the pun, and exhibiting how broad my cultural vocabulary is, and thereby impressing a good swath of the folks who might otherwise dismiss my argument outright into reconsidering whether I might actually have a point to ponder, and ... have you nodded off yet?

4/04/2007 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Edward, I missed the reference, but now that I've looked it up I am impressed :)

4/04/2007 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Oh.... I'm nothing, if not a Trivial Pursuit-winning cauldron of otherwise useless knowledge. Except when it comes to famous Australian feminist thinkers, that is... ;-)

4/04/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Yeah, the famous Australian feminist thinker was a major gap. Bet you didn't know about the tortilla soup either...

4/04/2007 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

How true it is that there are Wednesdays and Tuesdays on everybody's calendars, Edward. Friday for the one whom we should not name.

It works out that painting is and still is in a world with a blue background. And this background can swing depending on the mood people are in.

But there is a return: Not just in the States.
Look at some auction prices. Some Museum shows going around, and a maturing sensibility as Ed. points out. There are other factors too, but you know...
pretty much as Edward points out for that day of the week:
A growing and maturing market. Inquisitiveness.
Gallery's and museums ready.
You may not see it on the surface, Chris, just yet, but dig a little...

Below the surface there is a feeding frenzy going on... positionings... well... what is abstraction anyway?
Well, over the next few years you are going to find out. There's some interesting ideas that are getting thrown around, old, new, freshly painted, technology and science, strings, language as conncection, depth of communication, space, non-space, cultureshifts, new analysis ... we'll just see... join in or watch humans doing what they do 'reaching out beyong that which they have already settled upon', On Tuesdays!

I have one question though... for any of you who may have recently visited these programs...
Do MFA's make abstraction?
It's a serious question!

4/04/2007 08:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm too lazy to look it up- what is this with the Tuesday's and Wednesday's ?
Please explain?

4/04/2007 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

It is Wednesday, dear Anon, and I'd much rather be in Spain.

4/04/2007 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

lazy, lazy, lazy ;-)

4/04/2007 09:45:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

i think the genius of contemporary painting is in the shrinking divide between the abstract and the figurative. not only are we able to move more freely from one medium to another, but we are able to explore the space where the nonobjective and the representational overlap. i think artists are making less of a distinction between forms.

4/04/2007 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

In the end it may not matter, but eleventh your G. of C. P. Is what has been around for the last decade or so. The inquisitiveness that's starting to grow has to do with many things but... but what I think is one of the driving forces behind this newish interest is a reevaluation of what an art form can do, of claims to, without reference to the so-called meddling influences of the narrative, and figurative, currently under trend, though loosing vibrancy and wind.
People are Looking for More in Less.
It also has to do with a generation of artists and collectors not even born when most of the events took place. Other than reading a few selected texts, or taking a ride up the hudson, or down to Juddland, or getting on the flight shuttle bus for Daimler-Chrysler, it's all new--a language that not so long ago was laughed at, long ago found bankrupt, becomes interesting, because, why, because it's different, maybe there is something in there. Maybe what's missing inside is to be found on the outside, a place where the inside and the outside meet... I mean even that concept is standard stuff, but who knows what it means... well, some people mean to find out. And that's fair enough.

4/04/2007 11:58:00 PM  
Anonymous cjagers said...

I see many representations of abstraction, but very little abstraction itself. By this, I mean risk and invention happening through the material itself, building up and changing over time, rather than merely executing a "plan."

4/05/2007 01:28:00 AM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

thanks concrete, i totally agree with you, i feel that there is a rush for a major change. people want to predict it, to be in the know. but most ideas, even great ones take time to settle into the general consciousness. 10 years is really not a long time in the scheme of things. in fact, it is probably a healthy amount of time for a concept to take form.

4/05/2007 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Noddy Turnell said...

where was i yesterday (wednesday)
2cents
i tried to work out a painting by photographing it then photoshop switching colors and painting. i got something real good but it never worked when I got back to the painting. I tried it more than once. I know it sounds wierd and trite but the painting dictates itself and i have to follow it or make something utterly pedestrian that i came up with.

4/05/2007 08:14:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Noddy, did you try the twirl filter?

4/05/2007 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger de Selby said...

Concrete Phone: Yes, MFAs make abstract work. I am in an MFA program, in New York, right near Chelsea, in fact, on 21st Street (between 6th and 7th Ave), and I make abstract work. Some of my colleagues in the program do as well. But, I don't consider my work to be painting. It's drawing. This is not necessarily the case for my colleagues. Come to the open studios and see for your self.

Ed Winkleman: The original premise for my abstract drawing comes from working on the computer, in certain graphic applications. I took a particular detail of a particular software application and then dispensed with the machine.

4/06/2007 06:46:00 AM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

de selby, thanks for offering a reply...
Interesting, care to point to something discreet online?

Cjagers mentions merely executing a "plan. Sometimes that would appear to be true. But you have to wonder, where does the plan come from?
A general consensus might have it as something to do with a thing, or a gesture, and the sight [experience] of it: How the thing is navigated depends on numerous things, [apparatus and mechanics] both at the thing level and at the sense's end.
And then there are these other apparatuses, some quite locked in, others floating, bits and vestiges. And they kind of don't exist, or have in a sense moved out of the time/ space gadgetry, but they are hanging around all the same. And they impact on this time/space stuff. It's amazing how nothing can effect something.
And then there's this clear stuff that we are all hanging out in. IT'S TRICKY TOO. It's not as clear and simple as you think.

I could go on...but it's enough for a how many day old post (?) But things float.

4/06/2007 08:52:00 PM  

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