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We now stand at the tail end of an abstraction-heavy moment—a period characterized largely by the so-called market-driven phenomenon of Zombie Formalism—with the figure being taken up with enthusiasm by painters as diverse as Jamian Juliano-Villani, Ed Fornieles, Matthew Watson, and many of the artists in Mo MA PS1's current Greater New York survey.It's an exciting time for painting, and it so happens that the return of figuration coincides with the release of Phaidon's new book , an ambitious compendium of depictions of the body from across cultures and throughout time.The only thing is, it would be a little bit less male-centric, since the Neue Sachlichkeit was generally an argument by men about other people’s bodies, and now feminism and new thinking about race and sexuality has fundamentally changed portraiture.The other thing I’ve been thinking about from Venice is the Henri Rousseau show at the Palazzo Ducale.Companies are ranked in areas such as opportunities for development, the value of their pay and benefits and their bosses’ communication management skills.The term native advertising continues to evolve as brands embrace content distribution channels and spend more time curating quality content that tells a story an resonates with brands and consumers alike.When shows like that are pulled together, what happens is that certain names dominate the playing field and then it’s a contest between those players about who will have the most staying power and vivacity, or who will still be exciting in the next few years. It got such negative critical responses, but there were a lot of artists in it—like Matt Connors, Mary Weatherford, and Richard Aldrich—that I think are terrific.But if I was a young art student and I saw that show, I would say, “Okay, that ship has sailed. ” And you think figuration is part of the answer there? I saw the “New Objectivity” exhibition of realist painting from the Weimar Republic this summer at the Museo Correr in Venice, and those Christian Schad paintings could totally rock through a Lower East Side gallery today.
You can discern this easily at the indie art fairs like NADA—you’ll find booth after booth of figurative paintings. I do think that Laura Hoptman’s show at Mo MA did codify a period, and as soon as those things get codified they kind of get closed down in terms of new artists entering.
So, while the book talks about the ancient ideal that everything perfect in the world is somehow expressed through the human body, that narrative is no longer available to us because today we think of bodies as things that need to be fixed.
We all have to go to the gym or do yoga or change our diet in order to have a body that is even barely acceptable.
At least since the days of Delacroix and Manet, painting has vacillated between figuration and abstraction, with attention sometimes given to the smears of paint and at other times to the object those smears depict.
In the 20th century, with the advent of pure abstraction, the pendulum swing became much more pronounced: Ab-Ex was followed by Pop followed by Neo-Expressionism followed by the ‘90s figuration boom with John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, Lisa Yuskavage, et al.
I actually was just writing a catalogue essay for Sandro Kopp, a German painter based in Scotland who is famous for is doing portraits of people via Skype.