Cecily Brown The Girl Who Had Everything 1999

“I very much believe in peripheral vision and that you’re working on them without paying close attention. So a huge part of it is just time and putting things away and bringing them back and seeing… I trust the fresh eyes, but if you haven’t looked at something for a couple of weeks—and you weren’t sure—then when you flip it back ‘round you usually know straight away. When you’ve just worked on something, your relationship to it is too hot, overheated, and emotional, and neurotic, and you so want it to work. And sometimes you really want something to be done, just because maybe it’s gone on so long, and maybe the paint’s getting more built up than you want it.” Cecily Brown in conversation with Jason Rosenfeld, December 13, 2017.

It’s funny how so many artists still regard the term Mannerism as a pejorative term when many of the great artists through our history were in fact Mannerists. One of my favorite artists is Tintoretto who declared that his style would be made of the drawing of Michelangelo and the color of Titian. And his Mannerism created new twisted spatial experiences and an even stranger warped figuration that is astounding to see – especially at San Rocco. But to get back to our present – Cecily Brown traffics in Mannerist AbEx process. And even though we’ve seen it all before, know where it’s going, understand its meaning, it’s still fun to see a painter with the juice actually use this process to work out their personality quirks. Is it new? Will it change our minds? Does it comment on our time or our society or politics? I doubt it. But what’s wrong with using an old mythology to tell old secrets?

“I think most people, artists of my generation, balk even at the word style.” Like, “I don’t have a style! What are you talking about?!” It’s not Abstract Expressionism because that was a long time ago. Is it fifth-generation Abstract Expressionism? I think it pulls from a lot of different periods in art. It’s sort of Post-Post-Modern. It draws on an awful lot of sources but it hopefully churns them all up to become its own thing. People always talk about how I work from Old Masters, but I feel as though I try to absorb everything and chop it all up, fragment it, and hopefully it comes out as something new. So I don’t know how I would describe my own style.” Cecily Brown in conversation with Nicole Rodriguez Woods, September 2015.


Joe Bradley Untitled 2012

“I look at the work you’ve been making over the past few years and it’s clear to me that this is a person who really embraces the history of modernist painting. These are not, in any way, subversive of that history; instead, they kind of continue it. One can connect them with early historical modernist painting, and aspects of New York School paintings in the ’50s, but there’s a physicality, as I said earlier, a scruffiness, a kind of attitude present in your paintings that doesn’t feel like anything else one has really seen within that mode of working. They’re not in any obvious debt to anything, and they seem to be things that you have to find each time. They look like Joe Bradley paintings, and you couldn’t have really known until you started what that would be.” Carroll Dunham in conversation with Joe Bradley, June 24, 2017.

Reboot is the term that Corporate Hollywood uses to describe the re-marketing of a movie franchise. Whole new industries pop up, social media freaks out and if the “creatives” are clever enough they create a cultural watershed from a common mythology. In this way Comic Con Conceptualism takes hold of the collective imagination. Joe Bradley has learned this lesson and applies it to our Mannerist era. He uses the faded and antiqued Modern Era and its common mythology to court debate about the relevance of painting – in other words his work is click bait for Modern Art Geeks.  

“I’ve always been preoccupied with the sculptural quality of painting, or rather, the fact that the painting is also an object. We tend to ignore the fact that a painting is a physical, three-dimensional thing, and to treat it more as a window, or a portal. Paintings have that power and that quality, they can function like that – but they’re also these rickety things that have a backstage area we’re not privy too. I have this idea that there’s something suspicious about painting – I think that’s part of it. A sculpture isn’t pretending to be anything other than a sculpture – a painting asks you to suspend disbelief, there’s an expectation of an illusion that you’re being treated to. I guess I like to drive home the fact that it’s a thing, made out of cloth and paint.” Joe Bradley in conversation with Samuel Reilly, October 25, 2018.

Letting Go

“I want people to have the option to understand it, or to at least have the option of understanding how it was made. In many of my works, there isn’t even that much to understand. If anything, I would like to take the mystery out of art-making. There doesn’t have to be some kind of technical trick where you should have to explain it somebody in order for an average person to understand it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Art materials are applied to something else, and then you just roll like that. I think people appreciate my style because I’m good at letting go. There’s not a lot of precision to what I’m doing. It’s all about the perspective. The viewer can make things as precise or as open as they want.” Josh Smith in conversation with Alex Greenberger, September 26, 2013.

Josh Smith Untitled 2010

Josh Smith’s work exemplifies the focus of the new generation of Abstract Mannerists. Most of this kind of work repackages Late Modernist style and technique while dispensing with any theoretical critique. This work is about the “tastes” of the artists and their audiences. And it’s this question of taste, of what we have come to value as Art that’s interesting. Who decides? Whose “taste”? Which may be why Josh has created many  bodies of work incorporating all types of Modernist styles while using his name as the subject matter. 

“It sticks in your brain a little. I can only talk about my paintings, really, but I think it has to do with the size, the feel, and the attitude with which they were made. I strip out all the meaning before it’s presented. Like a lot of times when an artist—or someone who says they’re an artist—presents a painting, they just put something on the wall like they want to show it to you.” Josh Smith in conversation with Harmony Korine, April 19, 2011.


Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Circus No. 2 Face 44.19) 2013

“I also take pleasure in the so-called negative power in Grotjahn’s work. That is, I love his paintings for what they are not. Unlike much art of the past decade, Grotjahn isn’t simply working from a prescribed checklist of academically acceptable, curator-approved isms and twists. His palette isn’t only the voguish trio black, white, and silver; images aren’t taken mechanically from newspapers, the Internet, or other media; his paintings aren’t comments about comments about Warhol; they’re not coolly ironic. These qualities don’t inherently make Grotjahn’s art brave or even good (although it is good). They make you realize just how locked-in and unsurprising so much market-driven work has become.” Jerry Saltz on Mark Grotjahn, June 5, 2011.

Mark Grotjahn has been called the perfect artist for our time. His paintings reference and re-present many specific styles and processes of the Modern Era. And like many of his 21st Century contemporaries Grotjahn has removed any critique of the past in order to create a more user-friendly Abstract Mannerism. Grotjahn’s paintings are wonderfully made mashups of the abstraction of the 20th Century and they’re great to look at.

“… as Picassoid as they are, Grotjahn’s paintings also are reminiscent of work by a number of proto- and early modernists, as well as a host of primitive-by-way-of-Picasso–inspired artists from Klee to Pollock to Basquiat… Such associations are a matter less of style or imagery than of envisioning and giving image to different kinds of pictorial space — the space of the unconscious, the space of the spiritual or otherworldly, the space of collage and montage. The results are works that fuse renaissance space, cubist space, abstract and nonobjective space with surrealist and dadaist space, pop space and visionary-modernist space — a fusion that generates the real sense of the uncanny that the imagery only points at.” Christopher Miles on Mark Grotjahn, March 25, 2010.


“If the Abstract Expressionists sought to vanquish the focal points of traditional painting through a balanced fragmentation of the picture plane, Saccoccio does the opposite. Rather than rely on Cubist precedent and correlate the figure to the ground, she doubles down on her targeted point of interest, the center, and then does all she can to demolish it via a wholesale effusion of solvents.” Thomas Micchelli on Jackie Saccoccio, September 19, 2015.

Jackie Saccoccio Portrait (Widower) 2017

For many of the younger Abstract Mannerists there isn’t really a need to confront the traditions of Late American Modernism. Those traditions are simply part of the landscape for painting. Jackie Saccoccio’s work uses that era and pushes it forward into the 21st Century. She works with color field and AbEx techniques and styles while reaching back to underused classic genres like portraiture. What she creates is a complex and lyrical kind of abstraction. 

“I love these naughty issues of beauty, opulence and transcendence. Like the young painters that you mention, I went through great pains to eliminate traces of beauty in my painting, so as not to obfuscate the ‘serious’ nature of my work, or so I thought… The result was that I sent all the wrong messages, and the response was disheartening. Now, as I’m more accepting of this beauty thing seeping into the paintings, it’s not only not an issue, but viewers are more likely to bring up transcendence or ephemeral references, which has been my aim. The odd thing is, in those early years, I was making paintings with literal references to these. Now, in these portraits, with their mass and weight, they elicit ideas about impermanence.” Jackie Saccoccio in conversation with Ridley Howard, May 3 2013.


Laura Owens Untitled 2013

“One of the most interesting aspects of Owens’s work is that photography is not at its center. Digital logics, yes, but the photograph, no. Instead, drawing carries out the task of mimesis—an explosion of drawing both handmade and cribbed from elsewhere, of everything in the world: trees, buildings, numbers, monkeys, soldiers, ladies, couples, fruit, boats, cats. The show overflowed with handwriting, outlines, cartoons, sketches, stencils, shadows, and their graphic proxies, drop shadows. The magic of drawing—and Owens is a fantastic draw-er—is that you can remake anything you see or think of with your own hands. You take a picture, but you make a drawing.” Amy Sillman on Laura Owens, April 2018.

What’s interesting about this younger generation of Abstract Mannerists is that they don’t have to fight the same fights about abstraction. Abstraction is not new, not disparate. It’s just part of the world. To repurpose Dave Hickey’s comment on big money in the art world – “Abstraction is just laying on the ground.” Laura Owens picks up Modernist styles and Postmodernist techniques and uses them like an everyday language. Her approach to painting is matter of fact and at ease and her subjects are quotidian and ordinary. These paintings to me feel like a kind of genre painting for the 21st Century.

“In an era when many younger artists struggle with issues of heroism and the weight of achievements past, Los Angeles-based painter Laura Owens seems to have opened her umbrella and floated over the art historical baggage collecting on the tarmac. Owens borrows where she pleases—from modernist movements past such as Color Field, Op Art, and Pattern and Decoration, from European painters like Rousseau and Toulouse-Lautrec, from anonymous mediums such as textile and embroidery. Art historical references and any sort of imagery, high or low, that Owens feels like incorporating are co-opted with finesse and a clear-eyed sense of no-fuss entitlement, in service to a larger goal: her own precise vision for what makes a painting pleasurable to behold. Despite this precision she is highly versatile, and her paintings vary from abstraction to figuration to kooky nature landscapes in which the animals co-habitate in a harmony that limns the absurd (a monkey reaches out playfully to a butterfly, an owl stakes out a fragment of moonlit night amidst a backdrop of blue sky and puffy clouds).” Rachel Kushner on Laura Owens, May 1, 2003. 

Concept Abstraction

Charline von Heyl, It’s Vot’s Behind Me That I Am (Krazy Kat), 2010

“What effect has digital technology had on contemporary painting? Mark Godfrey, curator of international art at Tate Modern, discusses a new display of paintings from the last ten years exploring how artists negotiate the world of iPads, scanners and smartphones.”

Abstract Mannerism and all of its permutations has been going on for a long time. And in the 21st Century artists began to connect painting processes to electronic programming. Many of the older artists saw the reproduction and manufacturing potential in this new kind of imagery making tool. The younger artists have naturally followed suit. 

Painters have not only appropriated new technologies and software as studio tools but also addressed how these media might make us appreciate the real layers of materials on a painting rather than a digital image… In these conditions many artists are also interested in working either within or against the established traditions of abstraction. Abstract Expressionism was often associated with the heroic male painter, each gestural brush-stroke supposedly a trace of his emotions. But how might abstract painting be pursued when this narrative is distrusted, and the gesture, through the use of technology or otherwise, can be faked or non-assignable? Tate Modern, June 8, 2015.


Kerry James Marshall Untitled (Blot) 2015

“A handful of large paintings, representations of Rorscharch test–like inkblots that look at first blush like pure abstraction, were an even more dramatic shift for the three curators to reckon with. “I’m doing blots in part to confuse the idea of abstraction,” Marshall told me. “A blot is not an abstraction, really, because we know what it is. It’s a blot. And a blot is a particular kind of figure.” Marshall placed one at the entrance to the Zwirner show, which he called “Look See.” “I wanted to disrupt expectations immediately,” he explained. “I thought that was a dramatic way of introducing looking and seeing.”” Sarah Douglas on Kerry James Marshall, ArtNews, March 2, 2016.

Kerry James Marshall is mostly known for his wonderful figurative paintings. But when I saw his painting installation at the 2015 Biennale I spent a lot of time with his abstract paintings. I made connections to the Abstract Mannerist paintings of Christopher Wool’s paint blots, Warhol’s Rorschach paintings and David Reed’s use of hyper-activated color and process. They are beautiful in the way that Florentine Mannerism is beautiful – they overstimulate the senses.

“The logic of mirrors, reflections, and optical deceptions is at the heart of Marshall’s practice. His work points toward the major paradox of vision: while we may choose to see or not to see others, we remain somewhat obscure to ourselves and need a counter-presence to throw back at us our more or less distorted reflection. To depict the black figure, Marshall employs and inverts traditions, stereotypes, and expectations established by white culture. The image he constructs becomes another mirror, in which black and white Americans may face themselves and each other.” Kerry James Marshall review by Tatiana Istomina, AIA, March 24, 2017.


Cy Twombly Quatro Stagioni Autunno 1994

“…it is precisely as an attenuated Abstract Expressionist that Twombly has won a place in history. He preserved the Romantic subjectivity of a movement that, as American culture turned witheringly skeptical, lost all conviction. He did it by hazarding that conviction is overrated. Mere whim will serve just as well. Younger poetic abstractionists who bucked the tide of the sixties, notably Brice Marden, took heart from Twombly’s heroically languorous example. Around 1980, a retroactive recognition of his influence combined with the resurgent prestige of contemporary European art to boost his fame.” Peter Schjeldahl on Cy Twombly, March 7, 2005.

In the 1990s Cy Twombly was enjoying an artistic regeneration in his work and reputation. His AbEx process was offhand, loose, literary, brash and beautiful. In the 90s I walked into Gagosian gallery on Wooster Street and saw a giant Cy Twombly canvas covering the entire righthand wall of this cavernous building. It was a study of material, process and restraint – the exact opposite of Frank Stella’s “kitchen sink” corporate abstractions. Over the years it’s been this “provisional” quality in Cy’s work and process that’s provided a precedent for the many Abstract Mannerists that have followed. 

“…we must not forget that Surrealism itself was based in two divergent concepts, one in which works of art were first elaborated in the mind and then translated into pictorial matter. And another, which was based on the idea of automatic writing, or an interest in spontaneity, and of course that was the aspect most embraced by the Abstract Expressionists. However, Twombly’s work is remarkable, in part, because we always see him combining both ideas, collapsing them into a precarious equilibrium.” Olivier Berggruen and Mary Jacobus in conversation on Twombly, December 11, 2015.


Shirley Kaneda Momentary Suspension 1999

“My practice is based on the idea of having multiple spaces within the same field, so it’s about challenging the idea of a unity or a whole, or consistency. I question the notion of consistency and why that is privileged. That is part of my work using or trying to achieve a kind of complexity in space. So, different forms don’t seem to exist in the same space… And then, of course, there are differences in term of the parts of the paintings, they are not only geometric forms, but also lines and organic areas… I would not say painterly, because I am not really a gestural painter. I paint for the most part with flat, smooth edges.” Shirley Kaneda in conversation with Olivier Gourvil, April 26, 2012.

One of the 1991 Neo-Abstractionists was Shirley Kaneda. Her paintings are mainly about discontinuity. She collages Modernist abstract forms and processes across a morphing Cubist space. By the turn of this century Kaneda had digitized these forms using computer programming to stretch and elongate her imagery.  – “Most of us will agree the old values that were taught to us no longer work, but you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water, we need to re-evaluate what works and what doesn’t and be able to explain why.” (Kaneda and Clarkson)   

“…everything can be authentic and inauthentic now because the magnitudes of our experiences have become so compounded that it’s difficult to draw the line between the real and the synthetic. How would you draw the line? There are definitely painters who take a consciously distanced view, and then there are those who still believe that they are making more authentic work because you can see the hand of the painter attempting to embody some meaning through materiality. Does that make it more authentic than my using tape to produce hard edges? I think those kinds of explanations are just not relevant to our experience of the world anymore.” Shirley Kaneda in conversation with David Clarkson, Bomb, April 1, 1995.