Dictionary of Art and Artists







MODERN ART


Impressionism to Post-Modernism



 

 

 

 

Contents:

1 Impressionism

2 Symbolism and Art Nouveau

3 Fauvism and Expressionism

4 Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism

5 Dada and Surrealism

6 Abstract Expressionism

7 Pop

8 Pluralism since 1960


 

 

 

 



8. Pluralism since 1960



(MARCO LIVINGSTONE)
 


In its most extreme forms Conceptual art was perhaps ultimately too rarefied to be effective as an antidote to object-based art, but in retrospect virtually every ambitious form of art proposed since the ig6os has made its case on a central defining idea. On first sight nothing could seem further from the intellectual thrust of Conceptual art than the apparently unquestioning imitation of photographic forms of representation by the painters and sculptors associated with another movement of the same period, Photorealism. Painters such as the English-born Malcolm Morley (born 1931) and the Americans Richard Estes (born 1936), Robert Cottingham (born 1935) and Robert Bechtle (born 1932), however, were not concerned simply with replicating the appearance of a snapshot as a technical tour-de-force; their presentation of the canvas as a found object was a philosophical gesture that would have been unthinkable without the example of Duchamp, and their obsessive concern with equating the vision of eye and camera was a means of addressing issues of mimesis and perception which had challenged the thinking of artists for centuries. Photorealism was largely an American movement, and like the Pop art which served as one of its sources it was often interpreted in terms of its subject matter either as a critique or a celebration of lowbrow suburban culture. In its very dependence on readymade imagery, however, it declared its detachment and non-judgmental scrutiny. Even in the life-size sculptural figures by John De Andrea (born 1941) and especially Duane Hanson (born 1925), the narrative social connotations which sometimes threaten to engulf the image in kitsch remain subservient to the physical presence and shock of recognition occasioned by the apparent fidelity to appearances.


Malcolm Morley. Family Portrait

 

 

 


Richard Estes. Telephone Booths

 

 

 


Robert Cottingham. Frankfurters - Hamburgers

 

 

 


John De Andrea. The Artist and His Modell

 

 

 


Duane Hanson. Tourists

 

While Photorealism was popular with collectors and with the general public for its virtuosity and clarity of imagery, it proved short-lived as a movement among both critics and other artists. Although initially promoted as a return to figuration, by definition it held no real possibility of development apart from that of technique for its own sake, since the artist could aspire to nothing more than the duplication of evidence much more easily amassed by the camera. By 1971 Morley had adopted frenetically expressionist brushwork and violent gestures of fragmentation in deliberate subversion of the cool neutrality of his earlier paintings. Given the Photorealists' apparent lack of subjective involvement in the act of picturing, any distinction drawn between abstraction and representation was beginning to seem meaningless in any case. If it was an immediate source of imagery that was required, why not simply use photographs? Such seems to have been the conclusion reached by Gilbert & George, the self-styled 'Living Sculptures' who had made their name as performance artists, when they turned in the mid-1970s to the production of composite photographic images in which they presented themselves in the context of emblems of their emotions, perceptions and experiences. For the American Cindy Sherman  (born 1954), too, photographs for which she always served as the model provided a direct measure of contrasting notions of identity, self-image and gender; the explicit appropriation of the presentation methods of film-stills in her first black-and-white and colour photographs of the late 1970s and early 1980s soon gave way to a greater reliance on her own ability to transform herself into different characters through gestures and changes in her appearance. It was, however, another American photographer, Duane Michals (born 1932), who from the late 1960s most eloquently used the medium to convey thoughts about mortality, desire, loneliness and vulnerability. Although he was widely influential for his formal innovations, such as the use of serial imagery for narrative purposes or the pairing of images with handwritten texts, it was in introducing an intimacy of tone that he made his most courageous and welcome inroads into the largely public sphere of contemporary art.
 


Cindy Sherman. Untitled #98


Duane Michals. The Unfortunale Man

 

By the early 1970s a number of painters, too, were making a strong case not only for the continuing validity of their medium but for the subjectivity of a one-to-one relationship with subject and spectator alike. One of the most reticent of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s, Philip Guston (191380), shocked many of his former supporters when he turned in the late 1960s to an overtly representational style of almost cartoon-like vulgarity as a means of dealing unflinchingly with the circumstances of his studio existence and with passing thoughts, anxieties, memories and sensations. The generosity of spirit in his work, the insistence on art as a reflection of the fullness of his attitudes about life, presaged much of the painting that was to emerge towards the end of the 1970s from the studios of much younger artists. He was not alone, however, in resisting the purely formal and materialist notions of painting which had been so vigorously promoted in the 1960s by critics such as Clement Greenberg. Since the late 1940s in England Francis Bacon had steadfastly maintained his ambition to create figure inventions of such physical immediacy and energy as to appear to emanate, as he explained, from his nervous system. His work was a particular inspiration to other painters working in Britain, including Leon Kossoff (born 1926) and two German-born artists, Frank Auerbach (born 1931) and Lucian Freud (born 1922), for each of whom the physical substance of the painting was a direct materialization of the subject, often another human being painted from life. For Auerbach each painting exemplified a constant process of forming an image, scraping it down and then reconstituting it until it corresponded in form, texture, weight, tone and colour to his sense of the subject it represented; the accretion of paint, sometimes of such density and thickness as to risk incoherence, itself became a sign for the labour and time involved in the production of the image. In Freud's case the calculated application of each brush-stroke in conjuring a human presence functioned both as evidence of his obsessive scrutiny of the subject and as a material counterpart for the suppleness of human flesh. Such concern with what the art historian Irving Sandier has termed 'perceptual realism' also motivated painters of the human figure in other countries, notably the American Philip Pearlstein (born 1924), whose clarity of form and accuracy of detail were sometimes misleadingly associated with Photorealism.


Frank Auerbach. Head of Julia II


Lucian Freud. Standing by the Rags


Philip Pearlstein. Two Nudes

 

The openly traditional goals of such painters of the human figure lent increasing weight in the 1970s to those who questioned the pre-eminence still accorded the avant-garde for its own sake. For the Paris-based Israeli artist Avigdor Arikha (born 1929), for example, truth of expression had to reside in the particularities of working directly from the motif or from the human figure, as had been the case for artists from Velazquez through to Degas and Vuillard. Why, indeed, should such directness be deemed to have run its course simply because it failed to correspond to Modernism's insistence on the invention of new forms? Even in his paintings of empty interiors Arikha was intent on conveying, through the quivering presence of each brush-stroke, a palpably physical sensation of stillness and the comforting warmth of light. For the London-based American R. B. Kitaj (born 1932), who in the ig6os had unwittingly influenced the course of Pop art, such pre-Modernist traditions of life drawing had also become the most rigorous standard of excellence. His most ambitious paintings, however, combined Modernist principles of juxtaposition derived from Surrealism and collage with a concept of allegory rooted in Renaissance and Symbolist art, with images chosen for their layering of meaning through re-use, as in the art historical discipline of iconology. Often misguidcdly accused of eclecticism, Kitaj in fact made a powerful case for the availability to modern artists of the entire fund of historical styles and images. Kitaj's work presaged the development of many younger artists not just in his commitment to representation but to passionate convictions about particular themes and to a freewheeling synthesis of separate elements filtered through one artist's sensibility and related to a coherent subject matter.
 


Avigdor Arikha. Anne in The Doorway

 

In Germany as early as the 1960s a number of artists such as Georg Baselitz (born 1938) and A.R. Penck  (born 1939), both originally from East Germany, had sought to fragment and overturn conventions of painting in search of a vitality and violence which had specific precedents in turn-of-the-century Expressionism. In his early work Baselitz favoured images of overt sexual provocation, animality, mutilation and mental illness; he often expressed a sense of fragmentation and alienation by means of dismembered and apparently hastily reassembled interpenetrating sections, disrupting the coherence of both the image and the space in which it was pictured. By the end of the 1960s he had made actual a demand which he had voiced as early as 1963 to 'Stand the topsy-turvy world on its head': while still favouring traditional subjects of human figures, animals and natural forms, he both painted and exhibited them upside down, thus insisting on the reality of the picture itself as its own justification. Penck took a rather different course, notably in his reliance on an elemental language of hieroglyphic-like simplicity, but through the impetuousness of his technique and often wilfully crude symbolic forms similarly insisted on the primitive impulses lying just below the veneer of civilization in contemporary society. For many-German artists of a generation too young to have experienced World War II, such as Jorg Immendorff (born 1945), Rainer Fetting (born 1949) and Helmut Middendorf (born 1953), the traumatic crisis in national identity occasioned by the Nazi period stimulated a direct return to specifically German traditions of Expressionist subversion. For Anselm Kiefer (born 1945) the purging of this recent past necessitated a direct confrontation with Fascism, for example in a series of paintings of scorched or burning fields which he presented as metaphors for the destruction of the Jews at the service of the Aryan ideal; in several of these canvases he made reference to Richard Wagner, Hitler's favourite composer, and specifically to the opera Die Meisletsinger von Nurnberg, with its additional historical overtones of pre-war Nazi rallies and the post-war trials of war criminals. Kiefer's canvases are often aggressively physical, with the images painted over black-and-white photographs or supplemented by the incorporation of actual straw in a one-to-one identification with a dessicated field; this was not just a device to make the subject more literally palpable, but a means of suggesting organic cycles of life and death and the possibility of regeneration.


Georg Baselitz. Rote Mutter mit Kind


A.R. Penck. Im Tempel des Unbekannten

 

 

 

 


Jorg Immendorff. Society of Deficiency


Anselm Kiefer. Resurrexit

 

Avant-garde developments during the 1960s were characterized by almost puritanical restrictions against allegedly extraneous subject matter and traditional forms, and it was thus with an air of self-conscious defiance that many artists in the following decade embraced such taboos. Indeed the very notion of a self-perpetuating avant-garde began to be called into question. Michael Sandle (born 1936), an English sculptor based in Canada from 1970 to 1973 and subsequently in Germany, had described his work as early as 1964 as 'an attempt to find symbols for that which I fear, or hold in awe . . . "ghosts", Death, War, dissolution ... to invest my work with "magic" . . .' To these ends he deliberately turned his back on the innovations made by other sculptors and looked instead to pre-Modernist forms of monumental sculpture, notably in his first large-scale work in bronze, A Twentieth Century Memorial (1971-78). This represents a skeletal Mickey Mouse manning a machine gun, an image by which he decried the futility of modern institutionalized violence and what he judged to be the lightweight nature of contemporary culture. His subsequent bronzes, many of which combined references to World War II with devices derived from traditional funerary sculpture, were often provocatively traditional in a specifically Victorian sense. Together with the work of other artists loosely referred to as Post-Modernists, who sought to counter Modernism's linear progression and quest for new forms with an eclectic and synthetic approach to the entire history of styles, Sandle's sculptures helped make a case for the continuing power embedded in seemingly old forms and timeless themes.


Michael Sandle. A Twentieth Century Memorial

 

A deeply ingrained sense of tradition, phrased in a personal and often intimate tone of voice, characterized the work of a number of Italian painters who became a strong presence in the early 1980s, such as Francesco Clemente (born 1952), Sandro Chia (born 1946), Enzo Cucchi (born 1950) and Mimmo Paladino (born 1948). Promoted under various labels, including the Transavanguardia and New Image painting, they made frequent reference to their place in Modernist traditions for example in Chia's case by allusions to an earlier Italian movement, Futurism - while stressing their inherent subjectivity and their elevation of the imagination over intellect. Among Clemente's most affecting works were small-scale, lusciously coloured and sensual pastel drawings conceived as emblematic representations of the human body. Like many of the New Image painters, however, he made a point of working in a large variety of styles and media as if bound to express the restlessness of his visual life and to define his complex relationships to conflicting traditions originating in different cultures and periods. Through such thinking a series of overtly Expressionist oil paintings such as The Fourteen Stations (1982), in which he reinterpreted a symbolically laden Christian theme by means of his own recurring image, could co-exist with large-scale gouaches on paper in which he transformed his appreciation of Indian miniatures into a poignantly awkward archaic style, as if he were reinventing conventions of representation. For other Italian artists such as Cucchi, as for Beuys in Germany, the emphasis lay largely in defining the role of the artist as visionary; in Cucchi's case images with ritualistic overtones are often conveyed in sombre and emotive colours and with an impassioned brushwork indicative of an all-consuming energy. As he explained in a brief text in 1979, 'One can establish profound things in the material components of the work. They say it is useless to reason with the head. Then we'll reason with the elbow (again), but only when we quicken our "rhythm" step.' Logic and material fact were no longer such attractive propositions to many artists, perhaps specifically because of the sway that these characteristics had held throughout much of the 1960s and 1970s. Peter Phillips (born 1939), for example, who from 1960 had seemed one of the most rigorous and defiantly materialistic Pop painters in Britain, turned in the late 1970s to a mysterious dream-like imagery in paintings of extreme refinement and delicacy. He continued to base his pictures on collages of photographic images culled from magazines but presented them now as fragments of obscure origin rather than as immediately recognizable images. Familiar in their texture but naggingly unidentifiable in form, such motifs appeal to the spectator's memory and to sensations of touch as a means of short-circuiting a self-consciously cerebral response.


Francesco Clemente. Map of What Is Effortless


Enzo Cucchi. Mondo gobbo

 

 

 

 


Peter Phillips. Art-O-Matic Riding High


Mimmo Paladino.
S. Emilio

 

A number of artists in the 1980s have addressed themselves to the virtual impossibility of originality given the sheer weight of innovation presented in the many guises of Modernism for nearly a century. Rather than wage what might seem to be a losing battle, artists such as the Germans Sigmar Polke (born 1941) and the Czechoslovakian-born Jifi Georg Dokoupil (born 1954), the American David Salle (born 1952) and the Japanese Shinro Ohtake (born 1955) have chosen to embrace as many different styles and methods of working as possible, either from picture to picture or even in a profusion of seemingly contradictory idioms within a single canvas. Motivated to a large measure by the detachment towards style demonstrated in the 1960s in Pop art, and even earlier by the assertion of the Dadaist Francis Picabia that styles should be changed with the same frequency as one's shirt, such forms of representation could best be apprehended as conceptual acts. In such works intentions are often left deliberately ambiguous. Is Polke's presumed self-image as a copyist an emblem of despair and cynicism, for example, or one of exhilaration at the prospect of devouring and making one's own something which is already in existence? Should we assume from Salle's  that he is mocking the obtuseness or congestion of his imagination or celebrating the wealth of images teeming within it? For Ohtake as a young Japanese artist the predicament has specific cultural connotations in the hunger to assimilate and paraphrase every conceivable variety of contemporary Western art so as to restate it in his own terms.


Sigmar Polke. This is how you sit correctly (after Goya)

 

 

 


David Salle. Mingus in Mexico

 

 

 


Shinro Ohtake.
Untitled

 


One of the words most often cited by young artists in the 1980s was appropriation. This could entail the emulation by New York painters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88) and Keith Haring (1958-90) of the urgent street culture represented by the graffiti scrawled on walls or subway trains, or acts of such Duchampian simplicity as the presentation by the American Jeff Koons (born 1955) of a sculpture cast in stainless steel from a bargain-shop Easter rabbit. In a similar spirit another American, Sherrie Levine (born 1947), had earlier displayed as her own work framed photographic reproductions of famous modern paintings. She wrote in 1981: 'The world is filled to suffocating. Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged....


Jean-Michel Basquiat. Untitled


Keith Haring. Untitled

 

 

 

 


Jeff Koons. Rabbit


Sherrie Levine.
Lead checks: #1

 

Succeeding the painter, the plagiarist no longer bears within him passions, humours, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense encyclopaedia from which he draws.' For another American, Julian Schnabel (born 1951), the answer lay not in acquiescence but in an often violent assault on his chosen images and materials alike; in his best-known works, painted on a jagged surface of broken crockery, he seemed intent on literally destroying all conventions by a sheer act of will. As in the art of earlier Modernists, there is a sense that everything is possible and that art can be made out of whatever materials, images and subjects are most readily to hand, yet the optimism with which such methods had previously been associated seems unavoidably weighted now with the demands of career, competition and ego. Others, however, have suggested ways in which apparently unconstrained appropriation can serve to create a dialogue between different levels of experience and society. For example the English painter Colin Self (born 1941), best known for his intense and unsettling Pop art drawings of the 1960s, has demonstrated in collage paintings a readiness to make his own not just styles but actual artefacts produced by others as a way of exploring our common humanity. In 'Let's have it here and charge admission...' (1988) he has appended mass-produced plastic toys (including a figure of the comic strip character Bugs Bunny) to an amateur Tachist painting of the type produced in evening classes; the casual, almost throwaway quality of this act belies, however, Self's deeply held convictions about what he calls 'people's art' as a form of artistic expression worthy of our respect.


Julian Schnabel. Bob's World


Colin Self. Pluto

 

Against such currents of stylistic manipulation during the 1980s, other painters have sought to use their work as a vehicle for human psychology. The American Eric Fischl (born 1948) has specialized in narratives of the seamier side of suburban life, in which larger-than-life and often naked human figures are encountered in intimate and sexually charged situations that turn us uncomfortably into voyeurs. Although the images are clearly derived from photographs, our attention is deflected from their probable source to their materialization as succulent paint and then to the significance of their gestures and inter-relationships in the drama of an otherwise unexplained moment. Although similar subject matter had been explored by the French painter Bahhus (born 1908) since the 1930s in his erotic presentation of young women in claustrophobic interiors, or in the English painter David Hockney's (born 1937) large double portraits of the late 1960s, which were subtly expressive of isolation and mutual dependence, the possibilities for other painters were far from exhausted. Paula Rego (born 1935), a Portuguese-born artist resident in England, began in the mid-1980s to make specific reference to childhood memories resurrected almost in the manner of theatrical tableaux by means of a persuasively volumetric treatment of objects in space; however innocent the actions of the figures might at first appear, a disturbing sense remains of sado-masochistic power and dependence. In many of Hockney's paintings of the 1980s the human figure is no longer directly represented; by means, however, of pictorial devices such as multiple viewpoints and reverse perspective, interior spaces are organized so that we as spectators have taken centre stage in an overt acknowledgment of our presence and of our role in completing the picture.


Eric Fischl. Bad Boy

 

 

 


Paula Rego. The Maids

 

Abstraction and representation, terms which seemed to define irreconcilable positions at the start of the 1960s, no longer hold much meaning in the work of many artists. The English painter Howard Hodgkin (born 1932), for instance, has relied largely on a severe vocabulary of simple brushmarks and basic geometric forms, but his layering of the surface with coloured patterns has a specific function in each case in reconstituting the memory of a person or group of people in a particular location, often an interior space. In that sense his work, while it uses a language resembling abstraction, remains an intimate art of human behaviour and emotion. For the German painter Gerhard Richter (born 1932), by contrast, a dependence on the photograph as a mediator since his Pop work of the 1960s has served to draw attention to the identity of every image both as an abstraction and as a representation. His landscapes represent not so much a specific place as their photographic source, and in that sense remain conceptual acts; conversely his 'abstract' paintings, possessed of illusions of photographic variations of focus in their contrasts between crisp delineation and smudginess, read as representations of brush-strokes rather than simply as studies in form.


Howard Hodgkin. Dinner in Palazzo Albrizzi

 

Such interplays between reality and illusion, between the work of art as a thing in itself and as a sign for another level of experience, were central to much art of the 1980s. It was to such ends that a number of British sculptors, including Tony Cragg (born 1949) and Bill Woodrow (born 1948), used as their basic material found objects, sometimes altered but presented without disguise. A work by Cragg such as Plastic Palette II (1985), formed as the title indicates not from paint but from individual shards of cheap plastic, may at first appear to be a caustic comment about a now outmoded concept of what it means to be an artist. As an emblem of his own definition of creativity, however, it is as lucid as it is sincere: for what he presents to us here, in a mood of celebration, are his raw materials transformed into art, all the more to be cherished because they had been abandoned as useless by others. Woodrow's inventive fabrication of metaphoric images from discarded consumer items, their original identity still clearly visible, likewise presents the artist's duty as one of salvaging and making new, as is explicitly the case with Twin-tub with Beaver (1981).


Tony Cragg.
Plastic Palette II


Bill Woodrow. English Heritage - Humpty Fucking Dumpty

 

Almost every movement and art form initiated since the early 1960s continues to exist as a defensible proposition as we approach the last decade of the century. Styles have appeared to succeed each other like passing fashions, with conflicting impulses and alternative traditions defended with equal vehemence and conviction. No single way of working can be said any longer to dominate, as had been the case earlier in the century. Unnerving as it may be to feel the ground constantly shifting under our feet, it can safely be said that not since the advent of Modernism at the end of the nineteenth century have artists been faced with such an openness and wealth of possibilities.

 

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