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Introduction to Neo-Expressionism

by Art League instructor Scott Hutchison
by Art League instructor Scott Hutchison

If you weren’t able to attend last week’s lecture on Neo-Expressionism, you’re in luck! The talk by Gallery Director Rose O’Donnell is reproduced below, for all our members wondering about the theme of next month’s exhibit (or anyone else who’s curious).

1. Origins: German Expressionism

Kathe Kollwitz
Kathe Kollwitz
  • Movement from the 1920s
  • Started in Germany
  • Artists such as Max Ernst, Edward Munch and Kathe Kollwitz (right)
  • Subjects featured personal, emotional visions and highly charged political statements

2. What came before

Gene Davis - Hot Beat
Gene Davis, Art League instructor
  • Abstract Expressionism: Art movement of the 1950s characterized by spontaneous gestures and abstraction
  • Colorfield: Works focused on large blocks of color, minimal and abstract
  • Pop Art: Movement of the 1960s and 70s that included images from popular culture, advertising and news

3. When, How, & Why

  • Neo-Expressionism was a style that emerged in the early 1980s in Italy, Germany and the United States
  • George Baselitz, a German artist, led a revival of German Expressionism, a movement of the early 20th century
  • Artists wanted to break from the strict abstraction and formalism of Conceptual and Minimalist (Colorfield) Art with its lack of emotion
  • Characterized by combining traditional subjects with political and emotionally charged subjects
  • Painters returned to myth and history for their subjects
Poseidon and Me (detail) by Art League instructor Beverly Ryan
Poseidon and Me (detail) by Art League instructor Beverly Ryan

4. The Critics

“Supporters of Neo-Expressionism, and the larger return to painting in the 1980s, argued that Conceptual Art, Minimalism, and Pop had neglected art’s ability to activate the imagination, to invent myth, and to give vent to human emotion. However, some critics charged Neo-Expressionism with pandering to right wing politics and the tastes of the art market.” (TheArtStory.com)

“Artists now are involved instead with reclaiming that which has been rejected or popularized, and redefining the separateness of art. … Painters — and only a few years earlier painting was widely rumored to be dead — switched from acrylics to time-honored oils.” (Kim Levin, author of Beyond Modernism and juror for the June exhibit)

5. Characteristics of Neo-Expressionism

  • Appropriation of popular imagery
  • Return to the human figure
  • Return to traditional materials
  • Subliminal associations and fragments
  • Bringing art back to nature and into the familiar world

For more inspiration, you can look to artists including Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, David Salle, Anselm Keifer, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. We’ve also got books on Anselm Keifer and David Salle at the Gallery for you to flip through. For more perspectives, see the Guggenheim’s collection online.

You can find the prospectus for this exhibit here. Remember, the only requirement is that you use this movement as inspiration. We can’t wait to see what you bring in!

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