Participating Artists: Guy Avital, Matan Ben Tolila, Elad Kopler,
Hila Toony Navok, Yaara Oren, Galia Pasternak, Yanai Segal,
Guy Yanai, Dana Yoeli
Curator: Nogah Davidson
Modernism 2016 presents nine artists whose work reflects a renewed interest in Modernist aesthetics. Their return to this stylistic tradition is realized in their intra-disciplinary, form-based studies such as deconstruction, abstraction, color, tempo and composition- consequentially it is manifested mainly in painting. The exhibition may be seen as part of a global shift declaring the rise of new, fresh painting that has revived the medium after years considered dead.
The past year alone has seen a number of extensive exhibitions surrounding contemporary painting. Opening in December 2014 “The Forever Now” was the first exhibition dedicated to contemporary painting to show at MOMA, NY since 1984. Curator Laura Hoptman proposed that contemporary artists’ tendency to mix different styles of painting in a single work, testifies to their refusal to represent present times and attests to the generation’s a-temporality. The current edition of the PS1’s young talent show, “Greater New York”, created a stir due to the large amount of painting presented within the exhibition, usually famous for presenting innovative, challenging material. “Unrealism”, a collaboration between the two titan gallerists Jeffery Deitch and Larry Gagosian in Art Basel Miami, showed over fifty artists whom create contemporary figurative painting (and a small amount of sculpture). Lastly, “Tightrope Walk” curated by Barry Shwabsky at the White Cube Gallery in London, surveys some fifty artists who walk the fine line between abstract and figurative painting. Shwabsky demonstrates how the great Modernist masters went freely between abstraction and figuration, stating that the strict division between the two styles was defined in later years by critic Clement Greenberg.
It is a known fact that Modernist/ figurative/ abstract painting appeals to larger audiences than conceptual art. However, it seems that it is precisely this sort of painting, while easily digested by the public, is challenging for the art world. Though some praise the assumed resurrection of painting, other voices are rather skeptical, seeing it as another validation to the art world’s deterioration into a mercenary industry. The term “Zombie Formalism”, coined by artist-critic Walter Robinson, spread quickly as the derogative title for market- led abstract geometric paintings. Respectively, all the above-mentioned exhibitions prompted a spirited debate among art world professionals about the dangers of awakening the corpse of painting.
Indeed if we compare the founding fathers of Modernist Art from the turn of the 20th century with the artists creating in the Modernist style today, one of the most significant differences would be that those painters of past were considered the exemplary of radical thinking, of anti-establishment, of subversiveness, and iconoclasm. That said, during the one hundred and fifty years since the height of the Modernist era, those same groundbreaking artists have become a canon themselves and their aesthetic style the standard for how outdated, conservative and popular art looks like.
This is true not only for their style but also for their worldviews, which were also considered progressively liberal for their times. However from today’s standpoint, when there is greater sensitivity to topics of gender and class- it is clear that their exotic- romanticized view of anyone who is not a white male bourgeois like themselves (including women, working class, black and eastern people)- was chauvinist, sexist, colonialist, patronizing and ultimately racist.
Time has shown that the cultural revolution that the Modernist artists belonged to was extremely partial. Today too, humanity has a very long way to go until all men (and women) are equal- if it ever will get there. While the Modernist era was full of ideology and belief in the generation’s power to change the world, today’s generation is not united in a defined movement with manifestoes guiding there way. Our worldview about our limits is pragmatic. As the generation who took to the streets in the summer of 2011 and experienced how the system effortlessly overthrows the revolt, we understand the volume of institutional corruption, power structures and the illusion of democracy.
Hence, despite the seemingly outdated aesthetic, it may be said that these painters express the spirit of our times precisely - the style may be Modern but the outlook is absolutely post-modern, in the sense that it lacks ideology- rather it is post-ideological. It seems these artists' creative process led them to the Modernist style as a means to find their own voice amidst the chaos of meaninglessness. Be it because of their longing to connect to certain historical- cultural roots and use the aesthetic-stylistic heritage left over by the Modernist masters, to encode contemporary (or local) identity. Or be it from their wish to free themselves from any limiting obligations and explore creative experimentation from a playful approach.
The concerns that have risen in the wake of contemporary painting do not stem from the medium itself, nor from its accessibility to the general viewing public. The concerns are for the basic values of the work of art in the free world- that relate to freedom of speech, to challenging conventions and to stretching the boundaries. It seems today these values come through from an individualistic standpoint rather than a social one. The contemporary painters presented in this exhibition are engaged in challenging their personal limits in their creative process. Thus if the personal is always also political, it can be assumed that even with no ideological foundation to lead the way, there is guarantee for the perseverance of freedom of thought and creativity.