In Art in America this month Raphael Rubinstein, after reading issues of AiA from thirty years ago, considers the fate of Neo-Expressionism, a movement popular in the 1980s championed by painters such as Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, Francesco Clemente, Markus Lüpertz, and Julian Schnabel that was ultimately overshadowed by the more cerebral work created by artists like Jenny Holzer, Sherry Levine, and Richard Prince–what we now call “The Pictures Generation.”
Rubinstein concludes that
Clearly, something was at stake in these early 1980s disputes among critics and artists. Art magazines may no longer be the prime locus where such discourse occurs, but it’s vitally important that we have, someplace, a public forum where we can argue with each other about new art. I often worry that the art world is adopting the MSNBC/Fox News model—closed spheres where clusters of like-minded partisans never have to con- front opposing views.
And, if I may, one last point. Maybe we shouldn’t be so certain about who won the Neo-Ex vs. Pictures Generation bout. Lately, I’ve sensed MFA students responding to the oeuvres of Sherman and Prince with yawns or sneers, but when I bring up Schnabel their curiosity awakens. Could it be that, 30 years on, we are once again ready to take up “The Expressionism Question”?
After engaging in plenty of online discussions with people holding opposing opinions about the direction of painting, I’m not sure I completely agree about Rubinstein’s first point, but to some extent the lack of funding for arts writing may be to blame. Unfunded critics don’t have time to sit down and write 3000 words staking out critical territory–600 word posts with links and comment threads have become the norm.
However, I absolutely agree that expressive approaches, sometimes even non-ironic, are widely embraced in the painting community today. And the fact that painters are more likely to read (and write) poetry and art blogs than the post-structuralist theory championed in MFA programs in the 1990s has everything to do with it.
Image at top: Francesco Clemente, Secret, 1983, oil on linen, 78 x 93 inches. Courtesy of the artist’s website.
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