Progression of Art
Red Cell with Conduit
This bright red painting is divided into an upper section by a line of darker color, so thin as to be almost imperceptible, and a lower quarter, divided in half by a horizontal black line. Two black vertical lines, placed symmetrically and framing the center, rise from the horizontal line at 90-degree angles to end sharply at the thin line. Halley wrote, "This space is akin to the simulated space of the videogame, of the microchip, and of the office tower - a space that is not a specific reality but rather a model of the 'cellular space' on which 'cyberneticized social exchange' is based," while noting that it is "executed with a variety of techniques lifted from the Hard-Edge and Color-Field styles... For me, those styles, used as a reference to an idea about abstraction and an ideology of technical advance, replace reference to the real." Its construction demonstrates a clear influence from the color field painting of artists like Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman.
Innovatively the artist used Roll-a-Tex, a material used to texture walls, to create canvases with a tactile texture that as art historian Amy Brandt noted "both seduce and repel viewers with assaults on their senses of sight and touch," and Day-Glo paint, described by art critic Roberta Smith as "powerful fluorescent colors [that] comes from somewhere beyond art." In a move characteristic of Neo-Geo, the artist referenced the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard, by suggesting he aspired to "hyperrealization", saying that each "era becomes a hyperrealization of the preceding era, which in turn is assigned the value of reality." The painting, although simple and formally abstract, is almost painful to look at due to the fluorescent quality of the paint, suggesting a 'hyper' or overcharged version of already established aesthetic strictures.
Halley continues to influence contemporary artists, as art critic Stephen Maine wrote in 2010, "Peter Halley's... cell-and-conduit "sociograms" of the 1980s doused that era's Neo-Expressionism like a cold shower. Critiquing modernism's utopian underpinnings, Halley just said no to liberal humanism, and dutifully staked out the concomitant theoretical territory. Twenty-five years later, his dystopian hybrid of Minimalist landscape and Pop-culture color again commands attention."
Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic, and Roll-a-Tex on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Arrangement of Things
This painting with a horizontal axis uses fine vertical lines of color, overlaid with small asymmetrically placed stains of vibrant colors that blur and interrupt the strict geometric lines. A contrast is created between the stains, which are soft, almost cloud-like pulses of color, and the defined verticals that might suggest landscape, atmosphere, and/or a shifting relationship between background and foreground. The result is an emphasis upon the referentiality, rather than the purity, of abstraction.
In the early 1980s Bleckner, drawing upon 1960's Op Art, focused on creating stripe paintings, while also fracturing the hard edges of that movement, emphasizing ambiguity in the relationship between the two goals. As he said at the time, "As you begin to see something clearly, it breaks up. I like to use them as taking the idea of an image to a place where everything gets fractured. The paintings have to do with different states of consciousness, trying to describe that place in our minds where we see and don't see simultaneously.'' In looking at the painting, the eye is confused by the Op Art distortion of closely placed lines, whilst also being aware of the more organic layer of abstraction. This might suggest the natural world beneath the geometric impositions of humans, or a sub-concious fighting against the barriers of society.
The influence of Bleckner's 'stripe paintings' as they have been dubbed by art collectors and critics, continues today. At an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston that featured Bleckner's work, the director David Ross said, ''He's one of the most important painters in the emerging generation of American artists. The early stripe paintings really opened the area of geometric abstraction to a thorough reinterpretation by a new generation. A number of artists in this generation, whether they paint like Ross or not, show an incredible respect for Ross as an influence and a force."
Oil on canvas - Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off)
This work shows three Spalding basketballs, suspended in a clear rectangular glass tank filled with water and resting on a black steel stand with pneumatic feet that also seems to float in space. The work composes the objects as if they were geometric shapes, reflecting the calm order of the 'golden ratio' in its proportion and number. Two quantities constituted the 'golden ratio' if the ratio between them was the same as the ratio between their sum and the larger of the two. The principle, known also as the 'golden proportion', was an important tenet of Classical art. As a result, here a consumer object is elevated to an ideal classical realm, the 'total equilibrium' of the ironic title, while undercutting that realm with the dash of humor created by the basketballs and aquarium. In another reference to Baudrillard, Halley notes that, "Koons' pieces have the same effect on the viewer that Baudrillard has described the space program as having on the public. Koons, like NASA, has created a universe 'purged of every threat to the senses, in a state of asepsis and weightlessness,' a universe in which we are "fascinated by the maximization of norms and by the mastery of probability".
Koons made this work as part of his series Equilibrium (1985) for his first exhibition at International With Monuments. He made the tanks in three sizes, each holding one, two, or three basketballs and differentiated by the brand of basketball, filling the tanks with distilled water into which a sodium chloride reagent had been mixed so that the balls would float. The series included his Total Equilibrium Tanks, which were completely filled like this one, and the 50/50 Tanks, half-filled so the basketballs bobbed above the waterline. Consulting scientists to find the right formula, the artist said, "I wanted to keep it a very womb-like situation with water. I like the purity of water. So I arrived at an equilibrium which is not permanent but very pure," as after about six months the basketballs sank and needed to be reset.
The pieces were accompanied by a lifeboat and an aqualung cast in bronze, along with Nike advertising posters that showed celebrity basketball players wearing Nike products and holding basketballs. As art critic Angelika Muthesius wrote, "the tanks were an ultimate state of being ... The Nike posters were the Sirens - the great deceivers, saying Go for it! I have achieved it. You can achieve it too! ...What was paralleling this message was that white middle-class kids have been using art the same way that other ethnic groups have been using basketball - for social mobility."
Glass, steel, pneumatic feet, 3 rubber basketballs and water - Tate Modern, London
Broad Stripe: 6
Appropriating the analytic abstraction of Frank Stella, Robert Ryman, and others, this work consists of four broad vertical bands of blue and olive green, running from top to bottom of the pictorial plane, and implicitly extending beyond the frame. Though symmetrical, the band edges have some variance, wavering ambiguously, as if the human eye or the artist's hand had blurred them. The blue band on the far left is much thinner, creating a sense of horizontal extension, as if the image were cropped, and the small scale of the painting at 20 x 24 inches, also suggests a kind of diminishment of the monumental claims of abstraction as 'pure' form.
Discussing the artist, Halley references Baudrillard's simulacrum again in his "The Crisis in Geometry" (1984), where he wrote: "it is in Sherrie Levine's recent work that the simulacrum's fascination with nostalgia is the most specifically communicated... modernist geometry is emptied of all content except for nostalgia for modernist geometry." As art historian Hal Foster noted, her works "evoked this abstraction only to fall short of it, to fail it - which is to say, only to suggest that it had fallen short, that it had failed on its promise of pictorial purity, formal reflexivity, and so on." Like the simulacra, the familiarity of the image is the interesting thing about it, questioning what makes this particular abstraction different from Ryman or Stella's. The form is extremely similar, but the affect created is distinct, almost summing up the project of Neo-Geo artists.
Already known as part of the Pictures Generation with her works like After Walker Evans: 4 (1981), Levine became an important bridge between that movement and the Neo-Geo group with her check paintings and stripe paintings. Her distinctive stance, associated with both movements but not confined to either, was perhaps informed by gender, as Jerry Saltz noted in his review of her 2011 survey at the Whitney, "any woman approaching art history in the early eighties was attempting to enter an almost foreign country, a restricted and exclusionary domain that spoke a private language." In Saltz's view, her work, "shows how one artist from this generation cross-examined art history, reveled in it, and smashed it against the windshield of her anger...Her strategy was simple and not entirely novel...Levine tunneled into the storehouse of modern-art history, making obvious copies - bigger, smaller, in different materials - of work by Courbet, Mondrian, Brancusi, Léger, and many others," and also creating "her generic paintings of generic paintings - stripes and squares, subtle surfaces, come-on color." As Roberta Smith noted her "appropriational strategy...All along...has questioned the notion of originality, first by using motifs from other artists, then by representing motifs of a more anonymous sort. "
Casein paint and wax on mahogany - Whitney Museum of Art, New York
This rectangular painting, oriented on a horizontal axis, has grey and black irregular vertical bands running from edge to edge that seem to be cut-out by an angular irregular shape that resembles a stylized graffiti signature or tag. Instead of presenting a unified surface however, it projects through perspective into a surface beyond the first layer of image, revealing a green and black grid beneath. As art critic William Wilson wrote, the artist's works speak the accent of Baroque graffiti with their [...] serpentine abstract shapes. But they don't spell anything or form letters. Instead, they are subdivided with geometric bands of color that...tend to create optical illusions." At the same time, small glowing dots of primary colors like puffs from a can of spray paint appear asymmetrically throughout the pictorial frame, echoed by dark, sharply edged small circles that seem one moment to be convex and, the next, concave or cut out. Spatial relationships shift on the edge of apprehension, compounded by the almost textile quality of the paint, as the concrete grey of the bands looks soft like felt. Meaning is suggested but elusive, as the artist said, "my paintings are about nothing. How they deal with the problem of nothing." Nevertheless, the qualities of the 'nothingness', the pure formal abstraction are highlighted by the painting's context - referencing East Village graffiti art, the realities of the urban environment at the time, and the daily life of the artist.
Schuyff had been born in the Netherlands, but his family moved when he was a boy to Vancouver, Canada. He later studied at the Vancouver School of Art and became influenced by the works of Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. In the 1980s he moved to the East Village in New York and became associated with the Neo-Geo group, though his work often eludes categories, a position fostered by the artist himself. His enigmatic narratives led to his sometimes being classified as Neo-Surrealistic, while his emphasis on painterly technique and convincing illusionary effects resulted in some critics classifying his work as Neo-Op. In 2005 he moved permanently to the Netherlands, where he continued exploring both painting and sculpture, while also developing a career as a musician with his group The Woodwards. In 2014 his work was featured at the Whitney Biennial.
Acrylic on canvas - Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon
ultra red #2
This shelf sculpture uses the artist's characteristic laminated plastic wedge-shaped units, employing triangles with angles of 40, 50, and 90 degrees on which the artist has arranged nine cooking pots, stacked atop one another, six digital alarm clocks, and four lava lamps. Color plays a unifying role, with the alarm clocks blinking with red readouts which echo the color of the pots. The lava lamps are also red and gold. At the same time as this unified color palette is created, a hierarchical order is conveyed by the rising 'step-like' effect of the shelf. The artist has compared his works to the structure of game boards, the placement of goods in stores, and musical scales, and has said his precise arrangements are "about how objects can talk to each other." Although meaning is elusive and the artist resists explaining the conceptual basis for this work, the stepped shelving could imply a hierarchy of need, with the objects referencing food, shelter and purpose, represented by the cooking pots, lava lamps (homeware/informal lighting) and alarm clocks (an object with an unavoidable connotation of capitalist regulation of time).
While his work questions the status of the art object, Steinbach's unique contribution is in exploring anthropological, psychological, and cultural paradigms. As art historian Cornelia Lauf noted, "Just as the lava lamps and clocks continuously mutate, so too ultra red #2 resists any fixed meaning. A fundamental issue it raises is one of language. The title...focuses attention on an element that is common to the objects and the shelves - they are all some shade of red...It is an anthropological perspective," with the result that the work "suggests that the artistic stacking of forms is as relative a construction as the development of different dialects."
Born in Israel, Steinbach moved as a teenager with his family in 1957 to New York, where he went on to study at the Pratt Institute. In 1965, the artist went to Paris for a year, which he described as a turning point: "There was a big window, and there was art - well, it didn't look like art, but there were these paintings, of a washing machine and other products. I was interested in Surrealism and the Cubists. An illustration of a washing machine? That's bullshit." And yet, as he looked at the work by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, he described how his initial reaction of anger changed to being transfixed. "It presented the obvious and yet it wasn't obvious at all."
In the 1970s he turned to installation works like his Display #7 (1979), a work that involved found objects arranged on shelves on a wall he had covered with bands of different wallpapers. Around 1983 he began making his iconic shelves, arranged with various ordinary objects from mop buckets to 'I Love NY' coffee mugs and cereal boxes. As art critic, Andrew Busseth wrote, "At their best, his arrangements ooze feeling. They can look sinister or comforting, disorienting or familiar. His pieces may be the perfect symbols of a society rife with rampant consumerism. But they may also achieve more than simple critique, teasing uncanny qualities out of quotidian objects." His work has influenced many later artists, including Rachel Harrison, Darren Bader, Josephine Meckseper, Gareth James, Adam McEdwen, and Ricci Albenda.
Wood, plastic laminates, four lava lamps, nine enamel pots, and six digital clocks - Guggenheim Museum, New York
Tormented Self- Portrait (Susie at Arles)
This work uses an industrial signboard and mounting to create an innovative self-portrait through an assortment of corporate logos that reportedly had personal meaning to the artist. Included are logos from Marlboro cigarettes, Surfer and Samsung electronics. Even the work's title, placed at the top, is formatted to resemble a logo. On the left and right margins, the artist's trademark signature "Susie," for the series is painted in blue. Inspired by van Gogh's self-portraits in Arles, France, the artist reconfigures the self-portrait to suggest that in consumer society identity is composed of an assemblage of brands. The work's only hint of a 'face' or indication of a recognizable body is an abstracted sign - created by the yellow and black 'eyes' at the top, and the similarly colored industrial looking 'grille' at the bottom suggesting a 'mouth,' but such resemblances are ironically conveyed. While the placement of the logos conveys a calm order, composed out of the symbols one identifies with, the piece is also confrontational. The mounting with its rubber, leather, and metal structure might be read as suggesting identity is a kind of armature, an impermeable breastplate emblazoned with commercial insignia. It also suggests that, in a consumerist society, it is the identifications we have with products that dictate our own view of our self-worth or significance.
Writer and cultural critic Paul Theroux has called the artist's work "parodic iconography," driven by a "preoccupation with flotsam...to connect with the growing reality...of a blighted planet. "In 1993 Bickerton moved to Bali where his work became more figurative, depicting grotesque and stereotypical figures with a hyper-realistic approach. He resists an absolute distinction however, writing that, "this play on cultural artifice is the thread that runs through my work from the beginning".
Synthetic polymer paint, bronze powder and lacquer on wood, anodized aluminum, rubber, plastic, formica, leather, chrome-plated steel and canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Still Life with Portraits
This work depicts a pictorial plane containing sixteen circles with various colors from a synthetic palette, textile-like backgrounds, and reproductions of objects that contain portraits, using a combination of screen printing and more conventional painting techniques. The circles, escaping the borders of each side of the frame, overflow the image plane, perhaps conveying a sense that the objects overwhelm any attempt to contain them. The mechanically-reproduced images of ornanaments, representing the trappings of social status and wealth of earlier historical periods, questions the status of authenticity and the value of the handmade.
As art historian Sida Stich also noted, "Absence is a key issue," as the focus " on collectible knick-knacks emblazoned with pseudo-portraits of forgotten heroes, dead leaders, and unnameable generic persons, offers another designation of absence, here in terms of image vacuity and identity dissociation." Yet the artist said, "What ties everything together is that they're all self-portraits," suggesting that identity too is simulacra. This references again the preoccupation of Neo-Geo artists with a sense of self-worth and/or identity formed through identification or veneration of objects.
Vaisman grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, but moved as a teenager to Miami. He subsequently went to New York where he studied at Parsons School of Design, and was noted as an early member of Neo-Geo. Cofounding the International With Monument gallery, he also created a leading exhibition venue for the movement. Saying that "he'd had it with the art world," he left New York in 2000 and moved to Barcelona "to do nothing," though he subsequently returned to art, but, informed by his practicing Judaism, said, "I no longer represent humans or animals because it is forbidden. That drove me naturally to abstract art. I've almost always worked abstractly, so working exclusively abstractly has come naturally." His work has received renewed contemporary interest, following his solo exhibition In The Vicinity of History, 5774 at Eleven Rivington gallery in New York.
Process inks and acrylic on canvas in two parts - The Broad, Los Angeles