This online viewing room showcases a selection of works by innovative historical and contemporary artists who have returned to and reinvented abstraction in order to speak to the present and future world we all inhabit. Despite the erroneous belief that abstraction had been carried to its limits, artists have revisited the language and taken it in new directions, ever pushing the boundaries of art in line with abstraction’s risk-taking legacy. The works in this viewing room are alternately spare, texturally dense, or vibrantly colored. All feature distinctive mark-making: abstraction constructed by pictorial means.
“In this century, technology itself has become more abstract, and it has transformed the world we live in into an abstract environment” wrote Peter Halley in his 1991 essay “Abstraction and Culture.” As Halley points out, abstraction is inherently linked to the cultural and historical condition of its making. Previous abstract movements such as Suprematism and Russian constructivism were interested in social and political utopias, while abstract expressionists were interested in abstraction as a way to speak to universal truths in light of the devastation of the postwar years. Some artists included in this viewing room carry on abstract expressionism’s desire for an emotional reaction or connection with the viewer, while others are more interested in exploring new formal possibilities; both veins result in an embodied experience, a trademark of abstraction.
The last fifty years have been characterized by the proliferation of manmade objects, the digital revolution, and efforts to eradicate racism and prejudice; as this viewing room reveals, artists working in abstraction have responded to the social, political, and cultural conditions in a myriad of exciting ways. Techniques include the novel use of nontraditional materials, the blurring of boundaries between painting and sculpture, and the use of photographic, filmic, or other technological elements. More and more artists are also focused on telling more inclusive narratives and bringing erasures of history to the forefront.
“The twenty works reunited here for the first time are an invitation to look closely at painterly abstraction across generations in Europe and the United States. Past and present abstractions reveal today a myriad of possibilities to reimagine our mediation with space and materiality. These pictorial surfaces are as porous to the social space they inhabit as any kind of realism,” explains art historian Joan Robledo-Palop, Founder and CEO of Zeit Contemporary Art.
The artists included in this viewing room are united by their interest in inciting an emotional reaction or connection with the viewer, a commentary on society, culture and race, or taking position in front of the art historical canon. They communicate through color, patterns, diagrams, and shapes as well as with use of new materials. Their work proves that rather than reaching an end in experimentation, abstraction is an ever more important method to reflect on collective concerns through the subjective and objective experience in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Accompanying the presentation of this viewing room, Zeit Contemporary Art has published a group of studio interviews conducted by Jennifer Earthman with artists Nelo Vinuesa, Ashanté Kindle, Adebunmi Gbadebo, Julia Rooney and Alteronce Gumby. Additionally, Zeit Contemporary Art has launched a special episode of the podcast PERSPECTIVES featuring a conversation between Samuel Shapiro, Julia Rooney and Alteronce Gumby reflecting on the past and present of painterly abstraction.