New Image Painters challenge Zombie Formalists

Galleries are trying to spread the news: dour Zombie Formalism is out; pop-inflected, often casualist, representational imagery is in. This summer Jesse Greenberg and MacGregor Harp of Brooklyn’s 247365 organized “Don’t Look Now” at Zach Feuer, a group show suggesting that a renewed interest in traditional genres–portrait, still life, landscape–is thriving within the painting community. Later this month a similar exhibition titled “New Image Painting” opens at Shane Campbell in Chicago.

[Image above: Torey Thornton]

 “Don’t Look Now,” Zach Feuer installation view. Ann Craven paintings at left.

“Approaches to painting that were once doomed to languish in obscurity on the walls of coffee shops,” Greenberg and Harp argued, “are making a triumphant return to relevance in young and established galleries alike.” The show included work by Gina Beavers (featured on Two Coats last week), Josh Abelow, Katherine Bernhardt, Anne Craven, Mira Dancy, Nicole Eisenman, Keith Mayerson, Torey Thornton, and other familiar practitioners of “picture making.”

 Katherine Bernhardt, courtesy of CANADA

New Image Painting,” opening at Shane Campbell in Chicago on the 23rd, evokes the aesthetic of the Whitney exhibition of the same name and the New Museum’s �Bad Painting” show in 1978. Back then, Minimalist and Conceptual approaches ruled. No one wanted to look at–much less talk about–painting. These exhibitions helped change the dialogue, ushering in an era of exuberant painting that brought recognition to artists like Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Susan Rothenberg, and Elizabeth Murray. Shane Campbell’s exhibition, like Feuer’s, is also positioned as an alternative to the “anemic abstract painting [that] has occupied too much space within contemporary art and needs to get out of the way.”

According to the curator’s statement:

“New Image Painting” is clearly back
although painters might not self-identify with the term. It�s useful as
an organizing principle in that it offers a platform from which to
critique the prevalence of anemic abstraction and algorithm art, styes
that have become almost anonymous in their distancing of authorship and
their soulless execution. Through the recovery of characteristics
associated with �New Image� and �Bad� painting, current painters have
demonstrated a desire to claim the personal, creativity, narrative,
figuration, and art history as worthy of representation.

 Jonas Wood, courtesy of Shane Campbell 
Michael Williams, courtesy of CANADA.

The Chicago show includes Michael Bauer, Katherine Bernhardt, Ann Craven, Mark Grotjahn, Friedrich Kunath, Sean Landers, Lily Ludlow, John McAllister, William J. O’Brien, Tyson Reeder, Nick Schutzenhofer, Henry Taylor, Torey Thornton, Michael Williams, and Jonas Wood.

That galleries are positioning a new kind of painting to replace what they (and many critics) see as a tired form of abstraction is a salutary development and very different from the days when the objectness of Minimalism, performance, installation, and electronic media challenged painting. Collectors should take notice. Whether or not painters like “New Image Painting,” let’s be grateful that, unlike in the 1960s and early 1970s, no one is saying that painting is dead. To the contrary, the new interest in picture making confirms its revitalization.

New Image Painting,” Shane Campbell, Chicago, IL. August 23 through Octeber 4, 2014.

Related posts:
Roberta Smith on “current painting tactics”
Responses to “Zombie Formalism”
Speculating on Andy Boot and Zombie Formalism



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  1. I'm getting dizzy
    maybe we should just go straight to the coffee shops

  2. how long before academic skill makes a comeback?!?!…I'm placing my bet!

  3. Who did the first painting?

  4. What absolute crap.

  5. Ewwww. Bad painting replaces bad painting.

  6. These are all childish paintings. It seems like 3 4 year child has painted it.

  7. This work looks awful. I too have a problem with "anemic abstraction", but not in favour of this kind of figuration. Abstract is the only way forward for painting. To go back to figuration now seems hopelessly unproductive and depressing. We need to push abstract very hard so that it can match great figurative painting for complexity and spatiality.

  8. Torey Thorton’s painting reminds me of Carroll Dunham’s work around ’97.

  9. Duane – skilled art is alive and on the upswing!

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