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The rise of representation and the fall of interiority

-- By MarinaFratt - 17 Jan 2024

One of the questions I ponder is why the recent dramatic changes in art have happened. I have found it constructive to think about it through the Moglen lens.

Chelsea in 2016 was largely a minimalist wasteland

When I began working at a gallery in Chelsea in 2016, minimal expressionism was king. Textured black squares were selling like hot cakes. The only “portrait” in our gallery all summer was a collection of text, exclusively comprised of a series of short words paired each paired with a year representing an event in a person’s life. The textual “portraits” were designed to wrap around the ceilings in monotone hue. See attached a similar portrait by the same artist, Felix Gonzalez Torres. [Attachment: FGT Wall Portrait]

New trends, however, were emerging

Over the following few years a new trend emerged all over the art scene. A new direction came to the forefront that had hardly graced gallery walls since the impressionist revival of the 80s: figuration. People and places began to be represented in expensive art. Galleries started showing human representations all over the place.

Attached below is a painting by an early successful artist who utilized both tech aesthetic and figuration. New York based artist Austin Lee was one of the earliest artists I was aware of in the post-internet art movement human faces. Though all his pieces are hand painted on board, he executes many of them such that they look like they might have been done via Microsoft paint, photoshop or other digital renderings. [Attachment: Austin Lee Window]

Figuration artists became blue chip

A more recent popular artist whose career hinges on her contemporary representative portraiture, New York based artist Chloe Wise. Chloe’s paintings skillfully depict people, common objects, often in playful still-life like relationships with each other. Her paintings are not portraiture in a traditional sense as the people often aren’t depicted as personalities but more so as characters that interplay with and relate to the other objects and figures in the scene. Chloe Wise is a successful artist, which regular solo shows and museum acquisitions, whose style and subject matter would not have been widely accepted by the art businesses and institutions selling and buying her work even in the previous decade. [Attachment: Chloe Wise]

Similar and different, representations of interiors abound also

Another side to this representational subject matter trend on the rise is artful depictions of interior spaces. This interior painting by San Diego based artist Lizzie Zelter, captures an interior scene with colorful rendering but little abstraction. That which is depicted with looseness is rooted in realistic representation. The room is comfortable, lived in. It could either be the present or a memory- but is there even a difference in a world where the present is experienced by the constant affixing of moments in phone photography- which in this case served as the reference for this painting. It is an example of the growing representation of interior spaces in both fine art and photography. [Attachment: Lizzie Zelter Salda]

Is the rise of representation linked to the fall of interiority?

Both of these trends make use of every day visuals. People and places. But why have they grown in popularity now? I posit that they are satisfying, artful and valuable to us because they make permanent that which we don’t ordinarily perceive. Distracted, low attention span, social media minds lose the ordinary human appreciation of the mundane. The process these of artists of hand imprinting a space or a face and tangibly fixing it to a medium satisfies the part of us that no longer perceives this ordinary beauty in real time.

While this is a change that I was aware of for years only now have I begun to reflect why. The major movement in 20th century art was abstraction, with abstract expressionism pinning the century in half and taking paint to its limits in expressing human sentiment and interiority. Wild splashes and balmy chromatic schemes by artists such as Pollack and Rothko sought to make tangible the way humans think and feel. On the contrary, these representations of exteriors demonstrate no interior life. Perhaps we crave these representational subjects because with our eroded interior lives we can no longer process or comprehend the fundamentals of life. Maybe these artists have moved in this direction because we can’t even relate to the interior life of the old guard of expressionists like people used to. Perhaps artists ceased to express abstract human feelings because we don’t identify with the interior life anymore

All of these paintings have a common theme: stillness. The act of making a painting and looking at one takes time. Perhaps that is the present value of the medium of painting to present audiences with a unique invitation to pause and take some time. Though paintings are stimulating there is a stillness, and at least on the auditory level a quiet. Perhaps these paintings also serve as an analogue transmission of how things once were. They provide a rare moment of consistency in our otherwise chaotic thinking, permitting their own fixation to temporarily remedy the lack of fixation in our minds.

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Revision 1r1 - 17 Jan 2024 - 04:48:28 - MarinaFratt
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