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Neo-Expressionism

Neo-Expressionism Collage

Started: Late 1970s

Ended: Early 1990s


Summary of Neo-Expressionism

Many artists have practiced and revived aspects of the original Expressionism movement its peak at the beginning of the 20th century, but the most famous return to Expressionism was inaugurated by Georg Baselitz, who led a revival that dominated German art in the 1970s. By the 1980s, this resurgence had become part of an international return to the sensuousness of painting - and away from the stylistically cool, distant sparseness of Minimalism and Conceptualism. Very different artists, especially in the United States, from Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente to Jean-Michel Basquiat, turned in expressive directions to create work that affirmed the redemptive power of art in general and painting in particular, drawing upon a variety of themes including the mythological, the cultural, the historical, the nationalist, and the erotic.

Key Ideas

The Neo-Expressionist artists depicted their subjects in an almost raw and brutish manner, newly resurrecting in their frequently large-scale works, the highly textural and expressive brushwork and intense colors that had been rejected by the immediately preceding art movements.
Because the work of the Neo-Expressionist artists was so closely linked to buying, selling, and the commercial system of art with its galleries, critics, and media hype (typical of the Reagan era in the United States), some in the field began to question its authenticity as art that was as purely motivated as was, say, that of the Abstract Expressionists. Thus its popularity was also the seed of its demise.
Because Neo-Expressionism accepted and rejuvenated historical and mythological imagery -- as opposed to the modernists' tendency to reject storytelling (witnessed especially in Clement Greenberg's theories of art) - some scholars believe that Neo-Expressionism played an important role in the transition from modernism to postmodernism.
In just a few years, Basquait became a star. He is revered to this day, as can be seen in this recreation of his famous portrait. Photo from the Pasadena Chalk Festival (2013).

"I want to make paintings that look as if they were made by a child," Jean-Michel Basquiat said. His raw, subjective work made him a leading figure of Neo-Expressionism.

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