Responses to “Zombie Formalism”

 My last post precipitated several comments about Walter Robinson’s term “Zombie Formalism” and about the type of work discussed, as well as some offline discussion about labeling art movements in general. In an age supposedly marked by an inclusive, anything-goes pluralism, the arguments sparked by recent approaches to painting reveal that our “pluralistic” era isn’t without acrimony.

[Image above: Andy Boot, Untitled (blue), 2012, Rhythmic gymnastic ribbon, wax, frame, 100 x 70 cm.]

 Andy Boot, Untitled, 2011, sport bag, wire, wood, oil on paper, 40 x 70 x 30 cm

On the blog, Laurie Fendrich complained that:

Whatever it’s called–“Casualism,” the “New Casualism,” “Zombie Formalism” (I like Walter’s label)–there’s no doubt that the “painting” style of the day is marked by a lick and a promise, some sagging canvas and an exposed stretcher bar. Whatever the style is, it’s now filtered down to the undergraduate level–and not merely at art schools. I see it in the art department of the liberal arts college where I teach.

And dharmabum suggested that:

As deK said, by the time you see the bandwagon it’s already too late. R.I.P.

Anonymous, a reader from the UK (I think, because of the punctuation), wrote in defense of Andy Boot:

Andy Boot isn’t New Casualist or Zombie Casualist or any of the other tired terms that constantly pop up on this site. Andy Boot is a young, smart conceptual artist that uses painting as a vehicle or mode for other ideas.

His painterly, abstract gymnastic ribbon pieces in wax from 2012 are genius. His sparse watercolors on linen look like loose fibers clinging to a new sweater, or slinking organisms in a petri dish.

If you “don’t know much about him”, then why dedicate a post to him, and then try to categorize his work as something that should be speculated on and flipped?

 A Facebook Friend felt strongly that labeling perceived movements is a bad idea in general:

What about a term for coming up with terms that define and thereby embarrass a movement: Terminalogy. Or Terminalism.

One of the reasons I post the things I do is to start a conversation, and this has been a good one. Rather than taking offense  when critics suggest a name for a particular way of working, artists need to embrace it, the way Obama did
with “Obamacare.” When the Republicans began calling the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare,” he distanced himself from it. But eventually the President changed his mind. “Well, I am Obama,” he said. “And, yes, I do care.” Perhaps something valuable rings true in the term “Zombie Formalism” when we look at it from a different angle?

Walter Robinson may be using the term “Zombie Formalism” derisively, but that doesn’t mean artists should take offense. If they are making the work they need to be making, regardless of the art market, who cares what Walter Robinson or Laurie Fendrich say?


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  1. How about meaningless-ism? With so may people making this type of hip and trendy art fair formalism…aww thats what it is!
    Art Fair Formalism.

    I've just made my point meaningless-ism / Art Fair Formalism – your call, its really the same thing!

  2. The anonymous UK "defense" of Mr. Boot is just as vague as the perceived slight consideration of his work as Casualist. "Other ideas", "genius" and a tantalizing description of what another series looks like does nothing to illustrate him substantially as something different.

  3. Don't let the complaining fool you, everybody loves Casualism, Zombie Formalism, Provincial painting or what have you. Why? Because they finally have a flag to either rally around, hurl invective upon, or declare irrelevant, which are really the three postures of critical discourse most of the time anyway (I would be in the 'irrelevant' camp as you see). It's been a long time since the slow demise of Post Modernism and people were getting antsy with no 'garde' to quibble over. Casualism is that new front. Enjoy! It means that the machine is working as it should and will in due time swallow up the 'current' for the response.

  4. With the abundance of art school kids trying to find their way into the market with the next big idea – I think the new movement might very well be dubbed _

    "hipster formalism / hipster conceptualism"

  5. I've gravitated towards "Starbucks Formalism." It's sad but it's largely true: artists are producing the same painting, and only delineating from the generalization with their particular choices in what type of food, industrial tool, gravitational force, or commercial object they are using to make marks on their canvases.

  6. Please, Minimal Art Povera with some precious drug references mannered to the tune of primitive Basquiat. Tell me he did not put a canvas on a fork lift skid, also known in factories as a 'palette'. We are still using working class sentimentalism as a certificate of authenticity? How brain dead amnesiac are you people?

  7. In the September AiA Raphael Rubinstein refers to my role in coining the term.I subsequently understood from reading Groys that this formalism has its origins in Malevich's abrupt severance of painting from perception.Mondrian is grounded in perception, not Malevich.Zombie formalism is a different strain of abstraction.See my notes to this article

  8. How about Press Releasism? That's where I think culpability lies.

    Friends and I have discussed this a lot since Robinson's essay was published. One has averred that the term could and might be rehabilitated by the artists it labels if they choose to take it as a monicker with pride. That seems unlikely. It appears very difficult to escape connotations of inanity when you have "Zombie" right there in the label. But what do I know?

  9. I view much of this kind of art work as high-priced decorative stuff to put on a wall — pleasing to look at, goes well with the furniture, etc. Really nothing wrong with it until someone starts making unwarranted metaphysical, political, etc. claims for it (to make it more marketable?). If something is pleasing to look at and stirs some thoughts or moments of contemplation, I don't really give a hang if it was made using a fire extinguisher or some unexpected/unusual material. But, again, don't hype up the work, making claims that the work, in itself, doesn't merit.

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