VA -- Richmond -- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts -- Modern and Decorative:
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After the end-game abstraction of Minimalism in the mid to late 1960s, naturalistic painting with a strong figural presence experienced a resurgence. Realism typically refers to the mid-19th century movement that relied on close, objective observation to convey an accurate description of the modern world. This approach was intended to be democratic in its subject matter and in its legibility, and thus was inherently political. At the end of the 1960s, some painters, disenchanted with the possibilities of abstraction, returned to this historical style.
They were, however, unavoidably influenced by the intervening years, especially the advent of Pop Art. Whether landscapes or nudes, subjects were presented with a new frankness and were often drawn from middle-class, rather than working class, experience. The landscapes are those of the American road, and the figures are rarely shown at labor. These images often remain ambiguous, at times even unsettling, and thus lack the explicit morality of their historical counterparts.
Some Realists worked from direct observation and maintained the painterly quality of expressionist canvases. Others relied heavily on the photograph, which flattens space and allows for precise rendering. Photorealism can have an unsettling effect, since the paintings are both very convincing in their illusionism and clearly mediated by the original photograph. The eerie presence affected by the figures in Photorealist painting was carried to an extreme in life-size figures produced by Realist sculptors.
VMFAMO_140112_045.JPG: Painterly Abstraction:
The death of painting has been declared many times, and never more frequently than in the mid-1960s when artists appeared to be giving up their traditional studio practices and exploring unconventional materials and processes. Nevertheless the creation of painterly works continued throughout the late 20th century. While the artists represented in this room did not subscribe to one particular school of thought, their works represent a painterly approach to many of the ideas explored by Minimalism and Conceptual Art.
Many of these works share an embrace of thick paint, lush surfaces, and dense materials such as oil paint, wood, and encaustic wax. Figures and text appear as elements in abstract compositions. Despite the emotive quality of their colors and surfaces, many of these works trouble the legacy of Abstract Expressionism. Ron Gorchov created shaped canvases that work between Barnett Newman's mysticism and Frank Stalla's structured canvases. Alfred Jenson relied on external conceptual systems, rather than improvisation, to organize his compositions. The works in this gallery --- neither purely subjective nor purely objective in their content -- complicate the easy binaries of painting and sculpture, image and object, expression and logic.
VMFAMO_140112_054.JPG: New Image, Post Minimalism, and the Legacy of Pop:
Inspired in part by Phillip Guston's abandonment of Abstract Expressionism, the 1970s and 1980s saw a return to figurative painting, which combined the mundane subjects of Pop Art with the simple anti-illustionism of Minimalism. Many artists in this grouping also maintained strong conceptual content -- the painter Neil Jenney, for instance, and the art duo Gilbert and George. The portrait, a favorite subject of Pop artists, returned in a more idiosyncratic and self-deprecating form. There is also a strong British presence in this room, the natural inheritors of Pop Art, which began in England.
The works of several painters represented in this and the adjacent room were included in a 1978 show at the Whitney Museum of American Art titled New Image Painting, a loose term that referred to the simple depictions of everyday objects usually divorced from their environments. The purpose of the exhibition was less to announce the appearance of a unified school than to announce the return of painting as a necessary art form. Moreover, works by New Imagists were considered viable art commodities in a poor economic climate, and the emergence of this school marked the beginning of the 1980s art boom. New Image painting also developed alongside Neo-Expressionism with which it has visual affinities.
VMFAMO_140112_057.JPG: The Desert, 1974
VMFAMO_140112_090.JPG: Goodbye D., 1982
VMFAMO_140112_096.JPG: New Image and Post Minimalism:
New Image painting in America pushed the expressionist impulse to the brink of hyperbole, while opening it out to popular and consumer culture. As with Pop Art, "low" subject matter -- bikini-clad girls, children's games, and trite landscapes -- continued to be represented in the hallowed medium of paint. There was a disregard for representational consistency within the image as well as a feeling for space as a series of layered images. The results range from the spare, meditative images of Susan Rothenberg to the cartoonish abstraction of Elizabeth Murray.
These painters were also more apt to treat expressionism as one of many historical styles that could be put on and taken off like a mask. Finding ways to acknowledge that images are constructed -- aesthetically, ideologically, and often quite literally out of Masonite, tile, or roofing tar -- has been a concern of artists since the 1960s.
VMFAMO_140112_102.JPG: European Neo-Expressionism:
In the late 1970s, another figurative style dedicated to the renewed viability of painting came into prominence. But this style, referred to as Neo-Expressionism, rejected the deadpan of Pop Art and Minimalism. Neo-Expressionists used the violent brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism to convey many of the same dire emotions of alienation and despair while retaining recognizable figures. This style was popularized in Europe, especially by German and Italian artists who carried on the tradition of modern Expressionists such as Edward Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
The subjects they portray, whether individuals or landscapes, appear both financially and spiritually impoverished -- an apt sentiment in Germany and Italy where Fascist dictatorships ruled just one generation earlier. Neo-Expressionism marked the return to a painterly style, grand scale, and heroic subject matter, and it dominated the art market in the 1980s.
VMFAMO_140112_117.JPG: Buddha Watching TV, 1974/1997
Nam June Paik
VMFAMO_140112_123.JPG: John, 1998
VMFAMO_140112_127.JPG: Abstract Expressionism:
In the wake of World War II, the center of Modern art shifted from Paris to New York, where Abstract Expressionism became the dominant style. Embracing the mythology of antiquity and of indigenous peoples, as well as Freud's notion of an unconscious, its abstract forms replaced figures to express mankind's common fears and desires. Abstract Expressionism combined the flat forms of French Cubism, the rough brushstrokes of German Expressionism, and the psychological content of Surrealism with a North American mural tradition inspired by early 20th-century Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera. Yet critics referred to it as "American-type painting," partly because of its large scale.
Abstract Expressionism consisted of two major strains -- Action Painting and Color-Field. Action Painting was associated with the gestural style of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning, who experienced a painting as an encounter between the artist and the canvas. This view of art, as an unplanned record of the interplay between maker and matter, extended to the practice of collage, which experienced a resurgence in the 1950s. Color-Field, the second strain, was associated with Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Clifford Still. These artists created contemplative works with vast swaths of color that seemed to open out into limitless space, as they also asserted the flat surface of the canvas.
VMFAMO_140112_140.JPG: Assemblage and Post-Painterly Abstraction:
Abstract Expressionism, which includes Action Painting and Color-Field, is the forbearer of the work in this gallery. In the late 1950s, sculptors such as John Chamberlain and Richard Stankiewicz translated Action Painting's internal coherence and spontaneity into three-dimensional works called assemblages. These rough-hewn sculptures were made of traditionally non-art materials and found objects and were closely related to collage. Robert Rauschenberg's "combines" and Lee Contecou's constructions unite painting and sculpture and represent additional approaches to Assemblage.
Post-Painterly Abstraction developed when other artists further explored Color-Field painting. Stain painters such as Helen Frankethaler, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland emphasized the autonomy of the creative process. They poured and dripped thinned paint onto unprimed canvases where it soaked into the fabric, creating a unified image but also eliminating the possibility of correcting "mistakes". Their works were dubbed "one shot" paintings for the speed of production and simplicity of images. Cool indifference was read into abstract painting in the early 1960s, presaging the economy of Minimalism and the irony of Pop Art.
VMFAMO_140112_151.JPG: Pop Art:
The distinction between high and low forms of art had been breaking down throughout the 20th century, but in the 1960s, there was a broader acceptance of art's proximity to commercial art and its affinity with popular culture. High art, it was thought, no longer demanded ethical posturing or existential angst, but could be simply a professional distinction. Many Pop artists were in fact trained as commercial artists. A decade earlier, the United States had become the greatest exporter of consumer objects as well as cultural ephemera, and so Pop Art, like Abstract Expressionism, became strongly associated with American identity.
Bright colors, flat images, hard surfaces, and strikingly simple compositions relate these paintings to the traditional of modern, abstract painting. Artists had also been using text, ephemera, and readymade objects as early as the 1910s. Work referred to as Pop is unified by its ironic embrace of the mediated images found in advertising, pornography, movies, and comic books. In addition to adopting the look of mass-produced objects, Pop artists often employed techniques of mass production. Andy Warhol, for instance, used silk screens to reproduce paintings as an assembly line set up in his studio, which was known as The Factory.
VMFAMO_140112_157.JPG: Gullscape, 1964
VMFAMO_140112_186.JPG: Blue Interior and Two Still Lifes, 1965
VMFAMO_140112_197.JPG: Brillo Soap Pads Box, 1964
VMFAMO_140112_209.JPG: Minimalism and Conceptual Art:
Minimalism, a lapel applied primarily to simple geometric sculpture that began in the mid-1960s, extended Abstract Expressionism's treatment of art as an event or encounter. The Minimalist aim, however, was to explore these relations that take place between the work and the world, the experience Robert Morris described as "space, light, and the viewer's field of vision."
Minimalist sculptors and painters used economical means to explore the contingencies of human perception and saw art as existing in real space, not illusionistic space. But the hard geometries of Minimalism quickly gave way to pliable materials that responded to other environmental conditions like gravity and humidity. In an effort to remove artistic subjectivity from the work, many artists used simple systems to determine the work's final form.
Conceptual artists frequently determined their work using linguistic, mathematical, and other predetermined systems instead of perceptual and environmental ones. Rather than focusing on the specificity of the material world, Conceptual artists used ideas as their material to produce a painting, a performance, or a set of instructions as the finished work. That said, there remain occasionally unacknowledged spiritual, art historical, and autobiographical references within works of the Minimal and Conceptual vein.
VMFAMO_140817_09.JPG: Bernard Martin
Jackson Pollock/Life Magazine, 1996-97
VMFAMO_140817_34.JPG: Michael Lucero
Gabon Carolina, 1995
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