Abstract Painting – Regroup I

Never as in recent years has abstract painting come so close to the line that divides representation from the physicality of the work itself. Today the commitment of many artists seems to focus on the conflict between reality and the ways in which it reveals itself just as, once, artists addressed the conflict between the real as a physical entity and its metaphorical representation. If the abstract art of the postwar period allowed language and everyday life to coincide, embodying the latter in gesture, or hand-to-hand combat with painting, today language and perceptive experience go beyond the physical nature of the painting-as-object: the linguistic comprehension of what one looks at is made possible only by the philosophy that lies at the basis of the work. Which means that, more than ever before, the project is as important as the work itself. The latter does not necessarily show an image, as the works of Malevich, Mondrian, Pollock or De Kooning do, and a drip mark is no longer really a drip mark, but simply a self-simulation, just as paint is no longer a tool, but language that simulates paint. And so, despite the undeniable differences that distinguish one artist from another, a fine thread connects many of them, suggesting that they may have more in common than is readily apparent. [Demetrio Paparoni La Metafisica Della Luce]

David Row Untitled 1991

The truth is that we no longer perceive abstract form self-referentially. I’ve always had a problem with that anyway, so I’m satisfied with a less closed reading of abstract form. In my own work, I’m interested in abstraction because it allows imagery to exist independently, as objects and events do in the world, rather than being tied to depiction. And as a language, geometric form is communicable and has, potentially, a large and complex vocabulary. Now, because geometric form is relatively elemental and because the inclination of the human mind is to impose meaning, it provokes a wide range ofassociations. Managing the drift and inflection of these allusions within a thematic vein is part of the task. Choosing a language, a vocabulary, and a syntactical approach keeps them from being arbitrary, but a protean quality vis-a-vis meaning and allusion is crucial in keeping the imagery alive. We have to recognize that the static hierarchies and meanings inherent in the language of classic abstraction are closed and no longer viable. This language has to be broken down and opened up again; its imagery has to reflect the fractured, provisional, and linguistic nature of contemporary life and thought. [David Row in conversation with Demetrio Paparoni]

Sean Scully Novaya 1991

Of course abstract painting had never actually disappeared. Second-generation Abstract Expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Michael Goldberg, and Nicolas Carone were still hard at work at the start of the 1990s, often making some of the best pictures of their careers. So were minimalist painters such as Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, and Robert Mangold. However, it seemed to Jaudon and to Janis that these artists belonged to a modernist tradition that saw abstraction as a struggle to get down to the “essence” of painting, stripping away everything related to figuration and the outside world. Jaudon had been a participant in the Pattern and Decoration and Feminist movements of the 1970s and early ’80s, which saw abstraction as an inherently referential aesthetic, linked to age-old traditions of ornamental craftsmanship. Similarly, the Neo-Geo painters of the mid- 1980s—including Bleckner, Halley, Levine, Taaffe, and other painters such as Peter Nagy and Gary Stephan—looked to the histories of art and ornament as readymade sources of imagery and meaning. What interested Jaudon and Janis were these new movements that treated abstraction as a way of talking about the world, not a way of escaping from it.
News that Janis was preparing a survey of new abstract painting percolated quickly through the art world, provoking other galleries to offer their own assessments of the state of abstraction.Conceptual Abstraction, curated by Jaudon and Janis, opened in November 1991, accompanied by La Metafisica della Luce at John Good, organized by art world impresario Demetrio Paparoni. Work by Ross Bleckner, Lydia Dona, Stephen Ellis, Peter Halley, Jonathan Lasker, David Reed, and David Row appeared in both exhibitions. Later that fall and winter there were more exhibitions: Aesthetic Abstraction at Tibor de Nagy; Stubborn Painting: Then and Now at Max Protetch; There is a Light that Never Goes Out at Amy Lipton; Shades of Difference: The Feminine in Abstract Painting at Sandra Gering; and Abstract Painting: The ’90s at André Emmerich, curated by Barbara Rose. [Pepe Karmel on Conceptual Abstraction]

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