The re-emergence of abstract art

Abstraction returns to the art scene

Abstract art from the USAbstract art from the UKAbstract art from Germany

US abstract artists | UK abstract artists | German abstract artists


It's well over a decade since figurative painting burst back onto the art scene - sidelining, in the process, a tentative resurgence in abstract art following its plummeting visibility in the '80s and early '90s.

Despite high-profile advocates such as Mark Grotjahn, Beatriz Milhazes, Sarah Morris or Anselm Reyle, the opening years of the 21st Century generally marked an even lower point in its fortunes.

Now, however, a new generation of artists seems increasingly inspired by the non-representational, with collectors and curators following suit in a re-appraisal of its merits.

It's a fascinating re-emergence that not only serves, like all trends, to displace the overly-familiar, but also appears to answer deeper cultural concerns.

Simultaneously encompassing many of the most characteristic historical forms of abstraction, it's underpinned by telling geographical differences.

For much of Europe, an emphasis on involved painterly practice appears to remain more or less constant, with high value placed on immediacy and expression.

This seems particularly marked in the UK, where many of its new and emerging abstract artists espouse a painterly idiom and palette derived at least in part from the first flowerings of modernism, such as the orphism of Robert and Sonia Delauney, early cubist experiments, or the home-grown productions of the Bloomsbury Group and Omega workshop.

In Germany, modernist influence is likewise a conspicuous aspect of new abstraction, but here the emphasis falls on geometric forms such as suprematism, constructivism and the aesthetics (even ethos) of the Bauhaus.

This surprising resurgence of European interest in early 20th century experimentation - an engagement that even extends to literary output via a new emphasis on textuality and verbal narration in art - appears related to several factors.

For one thing, the centenary of the first flurry of modernist practice coincides exactly with the present. For another, its 'international' nature - although in truth an essentially pan-European cultural interchange - is replicable at the start of the 21st century in ways that the creation of the post-war Soviet bloc rendered impossible. Today, artists from Eastern Europe again play as formative a role in the continent's artistic discourse as they did at the start of the last century.

Perhaps most significantly, however, present-day social and political realities are uncannily reminiscent of those of the modernist era. Global financial crisis, ever-present threats to security, accelerated developments in science and technology and a widening division between rich and poor contribute to the recognition of a fundamentally altered world order, particularly with regard to the new political teleogies that fast-emerging super-economies have already begun to establish.

All of these issues informed the original modernist agenda which, while vacillating between optimism and despair, was nevertheless convinced of the supremacy of art and its ability to make sense of a raidly changing world.

Given the specific relation of modernism to the European cultural psyche, it's perhaps unsurprising that for US artists, post-war abstraction seems to provide more relevant aesthetic models.

Certainly curious, however, is the tendency to bypass the quintessentially American nature of abstract expressionism for later, though certainly related, abstract movements such as minimalism and hard-edge painting.

As usual, our round-up of some of the best contemporary abstract art is miscellaneous in nature, featuring well-known practitioners alongside emerging artists as well as virtual unknowns.

But the point is to show how all bring different approaches to the theme of abstraction - breathing new life, in the process, into a genre that's stealthily reclaiming its place in the limelight.

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