Meta I

When we say that metamodernism is a structure of feeling, we intend to say, very much like Fredric Jameson and, later, David Harvey when they describe postmodernism, that it is a sensibility that is widespread enough to be called structural (or as the cultural historian Ben Cranfield recently paraphrased it in a brilliant talk about the “emergent” in art at UCL, a “feeling that structures” (2015, unpublished conference paper), yet that cannot be reduced to one particular strategy. For Jameson, for instance, postmodernism was the structure of feeling of endings – the end of History, the end of “ideology”, the end of the social, the end of art; one that was expressed in many different forms: pastiche, eclecticism, the nostalgia film, photorealism and so on. For us, metamodernism is a structure of feeling associated with the increasingly widespread sentiment that each of these debates are kickstarted, not as project perhaps as much as a projection, the premise on which new projects may be endeavoured. This structure of feeling, however, too, finds its expression in many different formal languages that have been described in detail by others: the new sincerity, quirky, freak folk, New Romanticism, new materialism, speculative realism, to name just a few. In any case, the 2000s are the defining period for the shift from postmodernism to metamodernism to occur (just as the sixties were the defining transitional period for the shift from modernism to postmodernism). [Timotheus Vermeulen & Robin van den Akker on Misunderstandings and Clarifications]

Sterling RubyWIDW. RED RIFT. 2018

In a 2015 essay, metamodernism theorist Timotheus Vermeulen proposed the term depthiness to to try to name a certain phenomenon observable in much of contemporary art and culture. He quotes a piece of dialogue from Lena Dunham’s show Girls: “Just because it’s fake doesn’t mean I don’t feel it.” Depthiness, explains Vermeulen, is a play on both Frederick Jameson’s term “Depthlessness” (from his book The Postmodern Condition), and Steven Colbert’s satirical term “Truthiness.” The basic idea is that, whereas modernist art was confident in its ability to evoke a deeper, underlying, “real” truth with its representations, and postmodernism rejected as naive such attempts at depth, and instead made surface its focus, metamodern works play in an awareness of the postmodern skepticism of depth, and yet choose to perform or fabricate depth, or do whatever it takes to render the experience of it. Whether or not Anthony James is aware of the theoretical notions of depthiness or metamodernism, this work of his does seem to render a sensory experience of both. [Greg Dember on MetaModernism]

There is a strand within the newly emerging Speculative Realist philosophies called Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) that seeks to place all objects, rather than man alone, at the centre of existence. Its speculations attempt to escape what has become known as the correlationist trap, described by Quentin Meillassoux in After Finitude as “the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.” The anthropocentrism that has dominated philosophical discourse since Kant’s Copernican Revolution, and the resultant split that such thinking necessitates between man and the world, is here being radically rethought. As Graham Harman states, “the human/world relation is just a special case of the relation between any two entities whatsoever.” Harman, alongside Levi Bryant, Tim Morton and Ian Bogost, proposes an object-oriented philosophy that would instate a flat ontology, removing the primacy of human-object relations, thus granting all objects similar ontological status. The worldview advocated by OOO approaches something akin to panpsychism, or as Harman prefers to call it, “polypsychism”, whereby all objects are considered to actually “perceive” their relations to other objects. [Luke Turner The New Aesthetic’s Speculative Promise]


Tradition (the pre-modern era, perhaps going back to the depths of humanity’s origins) prioritizes the transmission of knowledge and culture from the past. Its limitations are that it reinforces ways of seeing and doing that are not available to optimization, and it does not promote individuation. Traditional types of cultural artifacts include folk songs and nursery rhymes, communal dances and rituals, nature-based medicine and spiritual healing, liturgical music, grand long-lasting architectural projects built over many generations, myth, folk tales, the notion of “canonical literature” — things that reify the unassailable wisdom of the old and the cyclical nature of reality. [Greg Dember After Postmodernism: Eleven Metamodern Methods in the Arts]

Henri Matisse. Woman with a Hat, 1905

Modernism (circa 1900ish to 1950-ish) attempts to escape Tradition’s limitations by emphasizing invention, intention, seeing below surface layers to (what are perceived as) essential structures, and making clear delineations by ranking, rating or typologizing things. Its own limitation is that it often fails to recognize interrelationships, contexts, and the wisdom of organically evolved knowledge structures and things, perspectives from the margins, etc. Examples: the Bauhaus Movement in architecture, Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone music, novelists such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, visual artists such as Picasso and Dali, and the origination of motion pictures as an art form. [Greg Dember After Postmodernism: Eleven Metamodern Methods in the Arts]

Postmodernism (1950-ish to 2000-ish) seeks to correct Modernism’s hubris through irony, playful juxtaposition, bringing attention to subcultures that are outside the dominant, the re-elevation of traditional patterns rejected by modernism, etc… Its eventual limitation is that it often nullifies a sense of meaningfulness or purpose and deflates the affective dimension and interior subjectivity. Examples: Minimalist Classical composers John Cage and Steve Reich; rock music in general, and then specifically within the arc of rock music, the Punk Rock, New Wave and Alternative Rock genres of the 80s and 90s; novelists such as William S. Boroughs, Thomas Pynchon and Brett Easton Ellis; visual and conceptual artists such as Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Robert Rauschenberg; architects such as Frank Gehry and Robert Venturi who defied modernist austerity and functionalism; film-makers such as Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch. [Greg Dember After Postmodernism: Eleven Metamodern Methods in the Arts]

Stacy Leigh Madolyn 2017

Metamodernism (largely beginning in the late 1990s and continuing in the present) reacts to or embraces aspects of all three prior epistemes. In my formulation, the central motivation of metamodernism is to protect interior, subjective Felt Experience from the ironic distance of Postmodernism, the scientific reductionism of Modernism, and the pre-personal inertia of Tradition. Does it have a limitation, in the way that I’ve claimed for the other epistemes? Probably, but we don’t know yet, because we’re not yet at a point in history where this episteme has played itself out! Representative artists/artworks include: the music of Sufjan Stevens and Jenny Lewis; television shows such as Community and Modern Family; the architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre; film-makers such as Wes Anderson and Miranda July; authors such as Dave Eggers, Elif Batuman and Jennifer Egan. [Greg Dember After Postmodernism: Eleven Metamodern Methods in the Arts]


“Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made (I try to act in the gap between the two)”.” [Robert Rauschenberg 1959]

“The way in which Rauschenberg is most known for combining art and life is through his incorporation of everyday objects into his works. Collection, his first Combine painting, is made of oil, paper, fabric, wood, and metal on canvas. Similar examples include Trophy I (for Merce Cunningham)Trophy V (for Jasper Johns)Fish Park / ROCI JAPAN and Orrey (Borealis). All these works include objects which connect the painting more closely to life, whether it be a sign-post, a window frame, a piece of cloth or a musical instrument. These works also show that just as Rauschenberg tried to blur the boundaries between life and art, he also eliminated the distinctions between different mediums such as photography, painting, printing and sculpture by combining them all in one work.” [Vinciane Jones Robert Rauschenberg: Art and Life]

Generally speaking, metamodernism reconstructs things by joining their opposing elements in an entirely new configuration rather than seeing those elements as being in competition with one another. If postmodernism favored deconstructing wholes and then putting the resulting parts in zero-sum conflict with one another — a process generally referred to as “dialectics” — metamodernism focuses instead on dialogue, collaboration, simultaneity, and “generative paradox” (this last being the idea that combining things which seem impossible to combine is an act of meaningful creation, not anarchic destruction). Metamodernists will often say that they “oscillate” between extremes, which really just means that they move so quickly between two extremes that the way they act incorporates both these two extremes and everything between them. The result is something totally new.[?] [G. Gordon Worley III Embracing Metamodernism]

“… the urinal was now part of what Danto called ‘the artworld’, in a 1964 article of the same name. The artworld is, simply put, a milieu in which objects can gain a new power: to express something beyond their ordinary utility. They are part of a new category, ‘art’, and gain a message that can be distinguished from their use or exchange value, and from the new category itself (a distinction we will come back to later). This is the famous aspect of art that the eye cannot, in Danto’s word, ‘descry’, the non-visual aspect of some visual art.
Warhol made his Brillo boxes from plywood, rather than taking boxes from a dry goods store; Duchamp didn’t make a urinal, he displayed it in a new context. This expression is not representation, as often understood: mimesis, or copying the likeness of some object. Mark Rothko’s most popular paintings, for example, do not represent any particular objects, but they certainly have a message: of awe, or the sublime. So, within the artworld, objects express ideas and feelings – sometimes by resemblance, sometimes not. [Damen Young and Nigel Priest – It is and it isn’t]

Meret Oppenheim Object Paris 1936

Metamodernism embraces the paradoxical. For instance, in negotiating between modernism’s belief in universality and postmodernism’s belief in contingency, metamodernism posits that certain ideas can be “objectively” true for an individual even though the individual also understands that they are not universally true. The paradox of something being “objectively true for me” simply means that each of us does, in fact, respond to guiding “metanarratives” (the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and what they mean) which operate as absolutely true to us even as we recognize they are not shared — or even necessarily understood — by others. This paradoxical relationship between how we conceive of truth “locally” and how we conceive of it at the level of society allows us to constantly exhibit and participate in paradoxes, as we are simultaneously aware and accepting of how we individually operate and how that differs dramatically from how others do.” [Seth Abrahamson Ten Basic Principles of Metamodernism]

Jasper Johns Flag 1954-55

Undoubtedly a master of paradox, Jasper Johns seems to exist in a world of betweens, between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, between painting and sculpture, between chaos and structure, between public and private, between emotion and fact, and also between the familiar and the unexpected. Like a Zen koan, this paradoxical stance running throughout Something Resembling Truth allows Johns to break down preconceptions to get to the very heart of language, image, and communication. In a Descartian manner, he strips his knowledge back to the elementary school basics of letters, numbers, maps, and flags in order to question what he knows and gain a fresh, truthful perspective on the world. 
Aptly titled Things the Mind Already Knows, the first room in this show is dedicated to Johns’s celebrated flag paintings. Here we see the artist breakdown assumptions and prejudgements about this ubiquitous and complex icon. The American flag is an object that most people have seen countless times in their daily lives. Nearly everyone has deep-seated opinions about this symbolic object. Much like art itself, everyone sees something different in the flag. [Emily Nimptsch on Jasper Johns]


Clyfford Still PH-234 1948

“The metamodern mind believes in progress and sees the concept of ‘development’ as a way of enriching an otherwise one-dimensional analysis of change.” [5 things that make you metamodern by Hanzi Freinacht]

“The metamodern way of thinking is a reaction to the postmodern relativistic dogma that progress was an illusion and that all you can say is that things change, not that any kind of development takes place. It is not a return to modernistic uncritical praise of technological progress and belief that all development is good, but an attempt at redefining what appropriate progress entails, based on the postmodern critique, but without throwing out the hope that we can develop things for the better.” [5 things that make you metamodern by Hanzi Freinacht]

“If you’re allergic to the concepts of development and progress, and you honestly believe everything keeps getting worse, then you’re probably postmodern. If you get irritated every time someone points out the drawbacks and potential harms of new technological developments, then you’re probably a good ole’ modernist. However, if you understand that all development has pros and cons, but that progress is inevitable and in the long run ultimately is a good thing, that cultural progress goes along technological change, and that it is your own personal responsibility to see to it that we as humanity get the most out of it, then you’re well on your way to become metamodern.” [5 things that make you metamodern by Hanzi Freinacht]

“Ours is also an age in which increasingly speculative modes of thought are thriving, with philosophies such as Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology, as well as movements like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and the rise of extremist political factions (for better or worse, as in the case of the so-called ‘alt-Right’), empowered by network culture.” [Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction Luke Turner]

John Hoyland 17. 3. 69 1969

“However, metamodernism itself is not intended as a philosophy or an art movement, since it does not define or delineate a closed system of thought, or dictate any particular set of aesthetic values or methodologies. It is not a manifesto—although, as an artist myself, I couldn’t resist the temptation to imagine it as if it were, with my 2011 Metamodernist Manifesto an exercise in simultaneously defining and embodying the metamodern spirit; at once coherent and preposterous, earnest and somewhat self-defeating, yet ultimately hopeful and optimistic.” [Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction Luke Turner]

Peter Halley, Two Cells with Conduit, 1987

“Metamodernism does not, then, propose any kind of utopian vision, although it does describe the climate in which a yearning for utopias, despite their futile nature, has come to the fore. The metamodernism discourse is thus descriptive rather than prescriptive; an inclusive means of articulating the ongoing developments associated with a structure of feeling for which the vocabulary of postmodern critique is no longer sufficient, but whose future paths have yet to be constructed.”[Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction Luke Turner]

Modern-ish 3

If Modernity, or Modernism, is our Antiquity, then its ruins have become every bit as fascinating, poignant and morbid as those of the Greeks or Romans were to the 18th century.
There’s a gulf, certainly, between Benjamin’s concern for a revolutionary redemption and the Futurist fetish for inbuilt obsolescence, but both are Modernisms equally hostile to ‘heritage’. This is what is meant by erasing the traces – outrunning the old world before it has the chance to catch up with you. [Owen Hatherley Miltant Modernism]

Carrie Moyer Shady Construct 2009

“I came into writing and describing and filming the world at the very moment that those old left-wing certainties were beginning to collapse, certainties that said somehow progress and modernity were on a inevitable path towards a particular destination in history. But it was also equally obvious to me the right-wing reaction—where you just bring a market force in to create a form of stability that goes nowhere—was equally not going to work. And I became interested in examining how ideas have led us to this position in ways that those who had the ideas didn’t really intend. People like Weber who were, in a sense, conservative sociologists of the late nineteenth century were looking at the consequences of rationality. At how scientific ideas were used by those in power in modern society—and what the consequences then were. I think this is still incredibly important to look at today. And above all Weber’s writings about bureaucracy. One of things I’m fascinated by at the moment is the rise of managerial theory….
they’re also expressions of something that Weber wrote about back in nineteenth century which he called the “iron cage,” about how rationality, when applied to social situations to try and control and manage societies, would often lead to absurd outcomes
HUO: The artist Paul Chan says that in art, and in general, we should just stop quoting. Would you agree?
AC: Yes, he’s absolutely right, because my working theory is that we live in a managerial age, which doesn’t want to look to the future. It just wants to manage the present. A lot of art has become a way of looking back at the last sixty years of the modernist project, which we feel has failed. It’s almost like a lost world, and we are cataloging it, quoting it, reconfiguring it, filing it away into sliding drawers as though we were bureaucrats with no idea what any of it means. They’ve got nothing to say about it except that they know it didn’t work. It’s not moving onwards—we’re just like academic archaeologists. It’s terribly, terribly conservative and static, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe in a reactionary, conservative age, that’s what art finds itself doing. The problem is that it pretends to be experimental and forward-looking. But to be honest, in some ways I’m just as guilty. What I do is not so different—using all sorts of fragments from the past to examine the present. Maybe this is simply the iron cage of our time—we’re like archaeologists going back into the recent past, continually refiguring it, surrounding it with quotations. It’s a terrible, terrible prison, but we don’t know how to break out of it.” [Hans Ulrich Obrist In Conversation with Adam Curtis]

“While there are, of course, many definitions of the term ‘postmodernism’, one way of looking at it is from an artistic or aesthetic perspective. It relates the term ‘postmodernism’ to the rise of a style or movement within the western art world in which ‘innovation’ is no longer a challenge, but a ‘blast from the past’, and moreover a millstone around the neck of the individual artist. All this is linked to the more cultural philosophical reading of the term, namely as the rise of a new era—postmodernism/postmodernity—which is characterized by a feeling of widespread disbelief at the Grand Narratives of modernity: communism, socialism, fascism. After all, these Grand Narratives once believed humanity to be capable of realizing values such as liberty, equality, fraternity, and authenticity, but one after another ended in totalitarianism and terror, and left humanity exposed.
…‘metamodernism’ could be considered the dominant structure of feeling of a generation born in the peak of ‘postmodernism’, roughly between 1960 and 1990. A generation that grew up in economic prosperity, but which, because of the financial crisis, witnessed the collapse of the neo-capitalist dream and, as a result, the evaporation of the political essence of the 1990s. A generation, moreover, that experienced abundance, but is confronted with an ecological crisis and the necessity of limitation. A generation that experienced years of irony and skepticism, and because of that suffers from what American writer David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) once referred to as ‘analysis paralysis’, the inability to make a choice or decision, but still needs to make choices and decisions in order not to perish. In short: a one-hand-other-hand generation that has a lot to choose from and faces important choices, but has difficulty making them because there is no comfortable lead—no universal Grand Narrative—to base a choice on, and that is, moreover, quite skeptical towards the universal power of Grand Narratives.” [Niels van Poecke Beyond Postmodern Narcolepsy]

“Ontologically, metamodernism oscillates between the modern and the postmodern. It oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity. Indeed, by oscillating to and fro or back and forth, the metamodern negotiates between the modern and the postmodern. One should be careful not to think of this oscillation as a balance however; rather, it is a pendulum swinging between 2, 3, 5, 10, innumerable poles. Each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings toward fanaticism, gravity pulls it back toward irony; the moment its irony sways toward apathy, gravity pulls it back toward enthusiasm….
If the modern thus expresses itself by way of a utopic syntaxis, and the postmodern expresses itself by means of a dystopic parataxis, the metamodern, it appears, exposes itself through a-topic metaxis. The Greek–English lexicon translates atopos (ατoπoς), respectively, as strange, extraordinary, and paradoxical. However, most theorists and critics have insisted on its literal meaning: a place (topos) that is no (a) place. We could say thus that atopos is, impossibly, at once a place and not a place, a territory without boundaries, a position without parameters. We have already described metaxis as being simultaneously here, there, and nowhere. In addition, taxis (τα′≌ις) means ordering. Thus, if the modern suggests a temporal ordering, and the postmodern implies a spatial disordering, then the metamodern should be understood as a spacetime that is both—neither ordered and disordered. Metamodernism displaces the parameters of the present with those of a future presence that is futureless; and it displaces the boundaries of our place with those of a surreal place that is placeless. For indeed, that is the “destiny” of the metamodern wo/man: to pursue a horizon that is forever receding.” [Notes on Metamodernism Timotheus Vermeulen & Robin van den Akker]

Modern-ish 2

Picasso Le Chapeau de paille au feuillage bleu 1936

“Leave it to the Whitney Museum to present an exhibition, “Picasso and American Art,” which dryly presents Pablo as a conservative influence on the praxis of artists.
The show examines the influence of Picasso’s work during his lifetime on nine American artists. The effect is to watch Pablo wrestle, strangle and put a hammerlock on the work of these artists, as they struggle under the weight and mass of his output, rather than releasing artists such as Pollock and de Kooning into free-form flight.
Such is the power of hindsight in looking at art. We simple spectators are granted godlike vision in judging the visual and creative struggles of our best-known artists under the beastly Picassodon. It is painful to see small early de Koonings which mimic Picasso’s In the Studio or perversely fascinating to watch Arshile Gorky produce Cubist paintings which are better than Picassos!
Weirdly enough, Picasso, through the template of this exhibition, comes across as a reactionary influence on some great artists. You will never look at the work of Stuart Davis with quite the same joy again. Such are the unintended consequences of an intriguing show.” [Charlie Finch on Picasso and American Art]

In the thirties, the obscure painters who would one day transform American art liked to spend the night in shabby New York cafeterias discussing art over nickel cups of coffee. The subject was painting, all painting. They talked about the painters of the past, Uccello, Piero, Michelangelo; about the pioneering modernists, especially Cézanne; about their great near contemporaries, Miró, Matisse, Mondrian. But the artist they talked about the most—the one who seemed to drink their coffee before they did—was Picasso. Not because he was the biggest or best: Others were arguably as important. But the others kept to their games, working within boundaries. They did not possess modernity itself. They did not, like the omnivorous Spaniard, seem to fall upon and ravish every corner of the modern world. They were inspiring uncles, not a devouring father. [Mark Stevens on Picasso and American Art]

“In Straw Hat with Blue Leaf, Picasso has collapsed a woman’s head and torso into a rather grotesque shape; the left eye caps a breast-like protuberance, the right eye is located on the other side of another breast-like shape, and the toothless mouth can be read as the woman’s vagina. There is something monstrous and comic about Picasso’s extreme distortions. The woman’s misshapen head/ body is connected to a vase-like shape, which rests on a platform, suggesting that Picasso is depicting a sculpture of a woman resting on a pedestal. She is an immobile body that is also a head or bust.
Given Johns’ long interest in both the figure/ ground relationship and the mind/body problem, as well as his two Painted Bronze and use of a Rubin’s figure in Cups 2 Picasso, and it is easy to begin speculating about the many reasons why this Picasso painting would have appealed to him. By incorporating Grunewald’s hopelessly distressed figure and Picasso’s disturbing transformation into The Bath and Untitled, Johns underscores a close morphological resemblance that becomes for this viewer a site of speculation. With its prominent nose, the afflicted figure’s profile resembles that of Picasso’s distorted woman. One can also see a visual echo connecting the woman’s large forehead and violet hat with that of the figure’s forehead and cowl. What is one to make of this morphological resemblance? Is it just an echo that Johns was keen enough to notice? If the echo enabled Johns to connect a diseased figure (a body where the affliction begins internally) to a distorted figure (a body that has been distorted externally), what are we to make of his joining of the two? Once we notice these close visual parallels we must recognize that the artist’s placement of each “thing” conveys a feeling of urgent necessity, and that for any of these sights (meanings) to become possible everything must be exactly where it is. Johns’ attention placement extends to the ground; it is never to be taken for granted.” [John Yau Jasper Johns’ Preoccupation (Part 2)]

Sean Landers Genius 2001

In 1957 Picasso did fifty-eight paintings related to “Las Meninas” by Velazquez. Picasso did this because he believed that he belonged in the company of one of the major art historical figures of all time. Forty-four years later I have made a new series of paintings based on several of Picasso’s paintings because I’m determined to be in his company. 
Sincerely yours,
Sean Landers
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a large scale painting [8.5′ x 25′] titled “War and Peace” utilizing imagery from four of Picasso’s epic paintings: “Guernica”; “La Guerre”; “La Paix”; and “La Joie de Vivre” as a structure for the work which is filled with all of the animal imagery Landers could find in Picasso’s paintings, sculptures, and sketches. Landers piles the images on top of each other to create a web of tangled shapes in bright colors which are reminiscent of Landers’ own stripe paintings, Picabia paintings, caricature paintings, as well as his use of the color-filling technique he uses in Adobe Photoshop for his magazine work.
In two other large-scale paintings titled “Sean” and “Genius” Landers restructures motifs from “Femme au bouquet”, a painting of a woman with a vase of flowers and “Femme au buffet”, a painting depicting a woman sitting at a desk, to spell out the words “Sean” and “Genius”, respectively. Landers’ intentions range from humor, audacity, and ego as a means to create structure.
One of the things that is so astounding about these paintings by Landers is that no matter how well you think you know Picasso, it is difficult to distinguish what might be directly taken from Picasso and what is purely Landers. [Press Release for Sean Landers Show at Andrea Rosen Gallery 2001]

Modern-ish 1

Antonin Artaud Self-portrait December 1946

Imbued with the idea that the public thinks first of all with its senses and that to address oneself first to its understanding as the ordinary psychological theater does is absurd, the Theater of Cruelty proposes to resort to a mass spectacle; to seek in the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled against each other, a little of that poetry of festivals and crowds when, all too rarely nowadays, the people pour out into the streets.
The theater must give us everything that is in crime, love, war, or madness, if it wants to recover its necessity.
Everyday love, personal ambition, struggles for status, all have value only in proportion to their relation to the terrible lyricism of the Myths to which the great mass of men have assented.
This is why we
shall try to concentrate, around famous personages, atrocious crimes, superhuman devotions, a drama which, without resorting to the defunct images of the old Myths, shows that it can extract the forces which struggle within them.
In a word, we believe that there are living forces in what is called poetry and that the image of a crime presented in the requisite theatrical conditions is something infinitely more terrible for the spirit than that same crime when actually committed. [Antonin Artaud Theatre of Cruelty]

”Make it new,” said Ezra Pound. ”Astonish me,” said Gertrude Stein, and an answering chorus of those who also believed that the future should be today raised the banner of originality and innovation with the dawn of the 20th century. But now that we’ve reached the 1990’s, it’s nostalgia that’s news.
Literature and art always reflect on the past, sometimes to praise it, sometimes to react against or reject it. But even that reaction is often against the immediate past in favor of one still further back, as children may ally with grandparents against parents, or young couples gentrify what their parents struggled to move away from. So the future-oriented politics of the 1960’s were founded in part on a return to the revolutionary idealism of the American past….
Economically, this efflorescence of nostalgia-ware has been nurtured by the buying power of the war babies and the baby boomers. Esthetically, it was heralded by the conglomerate style of the late 1960’s, when the simultaneous revival of a potpourri of historical fashions became the norm. No longer was there a clear march of styles, no Queen Anne giving way to Chippendale, or Chanel to Dior. Clothing became costume, and social life masquerade. ”Contemporary” began to imply not the ultimate in up-to-the-minute self-expression, but an ironic collage of the past. Office buildings began to sport ersatz classical pediments, and spanking new Victorian houses mushroomed on Long Island.
A good portion of the nostalgia for almost all aspects of the 1950’s does seem connected both to the ending of the cold war and the coming end of the century and millennium. This is not a longing to wander through worlds few today actually lived in, the kind I feel for the streets of 19th-century Philadelphia or the bistros of 1930’s Paris, but a nostalgia for the beginning of an era that now seems to be ending. [In the Arts, Tomorrow Begins With Yesterday By Leo Braudy]

“Lately I have found I can start a new body of work, or move through a series just thinking formally. I believe partly that’s just where a lot of artists are right now, but it’s also because my ideas, theories, and contexts are already in place. So, I don’t feel it necessary to continuously lament those aspects during the process of making. 
Actually this touches on something I have recently been thinking about: that there is a difference between the Modernist-looking work made by someone who is 42, 43, versus the Modernist-looking pieces made by someone who’s 23. The work from people my age is really about this regression, about a kind of healing process from the 1980s and 1990s. Everybody that was teaching us at that time had been through a heavy formal training—Aesthetics, Formalism, Abstract Expressionism—which they rejected in favor of different modes of operation, such as Conceptualism. So everything they taught us was bracketed under theory and context, language, dialogue, and writing.
… In the United States at least, if you go to art school you have a foundation year where you learn about movements—the Renaissance, Mannerism, or Abstract Expressionism—but then art history stops. The contemporary part is what you learn later on, which is also when you reject the basic art historical training you get on a Foundation Course training because you are led to believe that was just supposed to be an introduction, so it must be unimportant. My entire education was predicated on the notion that all of those precursors to Minimalism and Conceptualism were failed movements, and that the only real way to make art, or to understand the motives of an artist, was through theory and philosophy. But, because the system in which every artist is conditioned is different, now the younger generation’s impulse to think formally isn’t necessarily in retaliation to having been force-fed Conceptualism. That to me is both perplexing and interesting, especially right now if you look at what’s being made. [Sterling Ruby in Conversation with Kate Fowle]

Fame III

At Yale, you became close friends with artists Lisa Yuskavage and Sean Landers. How did their successes, and failures, affect you? 
The core gang was always Richard [Phillips], Sean[Landers], and Lisa[Yuskavage]. With Sean, our work was stylistically very different. He made these drawings, fictional letters to his loan officer on yellow legal pads—they’re really weird, and I always loved them. It inspired me, because I was trying to find my style. Sean hit on something that was his alone earlier than I did.” [John Currin in conversation with Karen Rosenberg]

“SABINE HELLER — You attended Yale with Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin, who seem to have influenced each other’s work a great deal. Where did you fit in?
RICHARD PHILLIPS — At Yale I stopped painting a few weeks into the program and began making surrogates for painting, after having been exposed to ideas by artists like Jack Goldstein, Blinky Palermo, and Joseph Beuys. The seminars in the sculpture program were of great interest to me, particularly the Benjamin Buchloh lectures on Beuys and the visiting artist program with Vito Acconci. John and Lisa were more part of the “painters” contingent at Yale. I respected them both and certainly followed their work, but in the end, it seemed caught up in traditions that seemed dated. As time went on I did hang out with John more, and he opened up my mind to the surprising insurgent potential of painting, initiated by its nearly blind acceptance as art no matter what you did with it…
SABINE HELLER — You once said, “You need celebrity endorsement and luxury sponsorship,” when speaking about making it in today’s art market. Is that really true? And if so, do you find it sad?
RICHARD PHILLIPS — It has not always been this way but has evolved to this state by the eventual acknowledgement of the reality of market conditions and pressures that need to be addressed transparently and efficiently. Whereas previous conditions permitted the obfuscation of the background operations of dealers, collectors, patrons, and museum trustees, these same actors now take activist roles in all areas of the market where, for example, curators double as art advisors and celebrity wranglers who have the ability to attract and consolidate power and value by determining who is written into the cannon and which sponsors will be invited to be affiliated with these trajectories. I do not find it sad. On the contrary, I support the removal of the false barriers and pretense surrounding art and feel that all areas should be made accessible in an open and unregulated market system.” [Richard Phillips in conversation with Sabine Heller]

Sean Landers Zeus 1990

“Art is of course a part of culture, and when you look at important milestones for the American branch of Gen X artists, Yale’s 1986 MFA class is considered the first (and possibly largest) contribution from this oft maligned group. John Currin, Sean Landers, and Richard Phillips helped to make this one of the deepest MFA classes Yale has ever seen.
Lisa Yuskavage wasn’t the only female alum from this class, but at times if felt as if she was the only counter-balance to what was often perceived as a rowdy boys club. That’s not to say that Yuskavage was ever antagonistic towards her classmates, in fact quite the opposite. After school, she moved to New York City with Landers and Currin, and they continued the dialogue that they had developed in school, eventually helping to bring figurative painting back into art world favor.” [Ryan Steadman on the Yale Gen X Grads]

Lisa Yuskavage The Ones That Shouldn’t- The Gifts 1991

One of his best friends at Yale was his classmate Lisa Yuskavage, an earthy, fearless young painter whose work even then was largely figurative… Currin took several drawing classes with live models, and he’d secretly begun filling sketchbooks with quick drawings of idealized pretty girls. He continued to do this after graduation, as a kind of escape from his turgid abstractions. He stayed on in New Haven for another year, doing odd jobs, then moved into a loft in Hoboken with Yuskavage and her husband, Matvey Levenstein, and supported himself by working construction and housepainting jobs. His own painting wasn’t going well, and he says that he felt like “a loser.”
“That’s when I broke away from what I was doing at Yale,” he said. “I read ‘The Horse’s Mouth,’ by Joyce Cary, which had a big effect on me—also Kenneth Clark’s book ‘The Nude,’ and William Blake’s poems. Those poems, together with Cary’s descriptions of an artist painting figuratively, just made me think, God, I want to do that.” He spent several weeks painting a large canvas of a female nude, which he claims was terrible. Soon after that, he answered an ad in the Village Voice and sublet space in a storefront on Ludlow Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which happened to be across the street from where two of his Yale classmates, Sean Landers and Richard Phillips, were living. “I hadn’t stopped being a loser, but I had company,” he said…
In 1991, he began a series of much less ingratiating pictures, of middle-aged, upper-middle-class women whose drab clothes and ravaged features gave grim notice of what the yearbook damsels could look forward to…“I only made about nine thousand dollars,” Currin said, “but thank God there was that really bad review in the Village Voice”—Kim Levin’s diatribe—“which got me some attention.” [Calvin Tomkins on John Currin]

Fame II

“After all, to be famous, that is, to be a celebrity, increasingly meant to pretend that you were like everyone else, a fiction that gradually caused the entire population of the country to believe it could (should) be famous. Programs like Mr. Paar’s and ”Person to Person” hastened what we could call the banalization of fame, its normalization. This has culminated in the use of the Internet, on which any narcissist can transmit his or her image around the globe and, with luck, become famous just for doing so. It used to be that a minimum requirement for fame was another person interested enough in you to print your picture or point a camera in your direction. No longer.
…My point isn’t simply that fame is ephemeral but that it once was a matter of posterity, something that counted above all after you were dead. Today celebrities just hope to sustain their fame through the week by providing the public with a constant flow of novel revelations; otherwise they drop off the radar screen. ”As soon as their now gets summed up, we move immediately on to another person,” Andy Warhol said, ”and another now.”
…This is the crucial matter: fame stripped of its everlasting value, its promise of a life after death, at least for one’s reputation, has lost its spiritual underpinning. Historically speaking, it used to be a spiritual matter, and it retains certain aspects of its spiritual character while no longer necessarily attaching itself to the ultimate spiritual goal, eternal existence.
Hence the vocabulary of fame still borrows from religion: charisma, idol. We still collect and revere pictures of the famous as if they were icons, whether they’re baseball cards or rock star posters. And what is an endorsement, in the end, but the sanctioning of something by the sanctified, the famous person’s lending his or her aura to a product? One of the memorable sights in the show is an old magazine advertisement in which Eleanor Roosevelt endorses a mattress (in another Steichen photograph). If the underlying issue were not aura, what difference would it make that a basketball player staked his reputation on the quality of a hamburger or that a First Lady liked a particular bed? Why should their word on these things have any special value to us?” [Michael Kimmelman on Fame and Photography]

Damien Hirst Instagram June 26 2018

“While past studies have suggested that there is a link between creativity and fame, Ingram and Banerjee found, in contrast, that there was no such correlation for these artists. Rather, artists with a large and diverse network of contacts were most likely to be famous, regardless of how creative their art was.
Specifically, the greatest predictor of fame for an artist [for artists in the Inventing Abstraction generation 1910-25] was having a network of contacts from various countries. Ingram believes this indicates that the artist was cosmopolitan and had the capacity to reach different markets or develop ideas inspired by foreign cultures. The “linchpin of the network,” he added, was Kandinsky. They also found that famous artists tended to be older, likely because they were already famous as abstraction was emerging, Ingram explained.
In terms of creativity, they found that neither the computational evaluations nor the art historians’ expert opinions were strong indicators of an artist’s renown.
In other words, if an artist had high creativity scores, they were not necessarily famous.
“An important implication of the paper is to show that diverse networks matter not only as a source of creativity…but could mean other benefits,” Ingram said. “That even aside from creativity…the artists benefit from the cosmopolitan identity.””[Cassy Lesser on Ingram’s and Banerjee’s study on Art Fame]

Located at 77 White Street, in a six-story loft building owned by the artist Ross Bleckner, the Mudd Club was a dingy gray-and-black box inside, with a bar initially made out of folding tables and a bathtub behind them to chill the beer. The club’s self-mythologizing denizens were a mix of the famous (Debbie Harry, the Talking Heads), the soon-to-be famous (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Debi Mazar) and the famous-below-14th Street (Glenn O’Brien, Chi Chi Valenti).” [Steven Kurutz on Richard Boch’s memoir of the Mudd Club]
“The ’hood was soaked in art. Boch made out with Rauschenberg in a building owned by a current Hamptons resident, the artist Ross Bleckner, who previously rented several of the floors to Julian Schnabel. A club is only as happening as the people inside it, so Boch ushered past the chain link ropes the likes of: Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, James Rosenquist, Pictures Generation art star Walter Robinson, Dennis Oppenheim, Kiki Smith, and the omnipresent Andy Warhol. 
Jean Michel Basquiat was a regular, and a photo of him dancing at the club in the book is now the main entrance image of Basquiat’s enormous new show at London’s Barbican. Another regular Boch brought inside the ropes was British artist James Nares, who, like Basquiat, was also in a band as he got his art career started. “Mudd was the place with the most interesting people,” Nares is quoted as saying in the book, “the place where it was happening.”” [Sandra Hale Schulman on Richard Boch’s memoir of the Mudd Club]

Fame I

Fame is intrinsically valuable. Fame is a key metric of success for professionals in business, academia, politics and the arts. Fame also shapes access to resources and augments returns on individual effort. For the start-up, fame means access to prominent investors and talented employees; for the scientist, fame can determine the distribution of grants, labs and tenure; for the artist, fame wins benefactors, collaborators and marquee dealers. Thus, fame is both a means to success as well as an end in itself. [Banerjee Mitali & Paul L. Ingram Fame as an Illusion of Creativity: Evidence from the Pioneers of Abstract Art]

Jeff Koons Art Magazine Ads (Art in America) 1988-9

there is no New York avant-garde anymore. The same goes for Los Angeles, London, and Berlin. Everything is merged together. Each city shows similar artists, sells them to the same collectors, works with the same curators and museums. The same galleries are in the same art fairs at a time when the fairs are so expensive that it’s impossible to use them to experiment or take chances. Back-to-back art-fair busts can cost a gallery a quarter-of-a-million dollars in losses in ten days. And yet even though gallery foot traffic is at a trickle and more and more sales happen online and on the road, megagalleries keep expanding and even many Lower East Side galleries are already on their second-larger spaces. Never mind that curators and collectors who are in the same city forego gallery shows (!) and instead try to catch up in two days at an art fair in Hong Kong, Basel, Miami, New York, or London on their way to the next biennials. It’s a system no one likes, yet galleries can’t opt out because not doing fairs means sitting out this global economy. All this has led to many artists being spread way too thin — and work suffering. This can instantly be seen in the atrocious high-cost Met roof installation of Adrián Villar Rojas, a usually good 37-year-old who has been featured in scores of big shows and who is currently working on at least two or three other such projects to be staged in L.A. and Austria. By the same token, I love Albert Oehlen’s work but his just-closed Gagosian show of giant paintings was pure product. This isn’t an avant-garde; it’s an economy. [Jerry Saltz on the lost avant-garde.]

The most obvious change in the nature of fame over the last twenty or so years has been the increasing self-consciousness among the audience, the media, and the famous about the process, and the desire to stage that self-consciousness as part of the general staging of fame itself. Whereas in the past these processes were generally invisible or seemingly transparent, now they have become part of the story. Fame still has something of the magical quality of seeming to radiate from the famous person, but the knowing audience is also aware of and specifically made alert to the presence of publicists, spin doctors, paparazzi, and all the rest of the backstage and off-camera entourage that facilitates the creation of modern celebrity. Comments on both how the new sports star and movie phenomenon of the moment are handling their newfound fame and how public and/or media adulation has burdened their private lives have become obligatory parts of the story–ways to demonstrate their own self-awareness by both buying into fame culture and ostentatiously disdaining it. Brandishing this same self-consciousness has also led the media to assume that their stories have depth.” [Leo Braudy in conversation with Jennifer Geddes]