The critical foundations of American neo-expressionism: 1980-1984



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Texas Tech University


International Neo-Expressionism has been regarded as one of the significant achievements of postmodern art. This study examines the critical foundation of American Neo-Expressionism from 1980 to 1984. It focuses on critical reception rather than on analysis of works. Three questions are raised in this study: What are the elements that constitute American Neo-Expressionist discourse? Does American Neo-Expressionism differ from European Neo-Expressionism? In the early 1980s, what types of art were perceived as American Neo-Expressionism? My thesis is that style is not useful in investigating Neo-Expressionism; Neo-Expressionism is identified by critical discourse.

In many ways American Neo-Expressionism can be viewed as a calculated American response to the resurfacing of nationalism in European countries, such as Germany and Italy, particularly in terms of economics. During the confrontation that followed, American critics differentiated between American and European Neo-Expressionism. Within this discourse, art critics identified several themes which would contribute to the conceptual estabhshment of Neo-Expressionist art.

The legitimizing of Neo-Expressionist art not only created new possibilities and concepts for what that art could be, but its critical discourses have functioned as the theoretical valorization of contemporary art ever since.

It is less commonly known that in the early 1980s, most artists of so-called American Neo-Expressionism were essentially New Image painters or Punk artists. Neo-Expressionism, New Image, and Art Punk displayed a subtly differentiated attitude toward the ideal of art, yet they had this in common: their art deconstructed the modernist status of representation. These three types of art were parceled out as a commercial movement in the East Village art of the early 1980s in New York City.



Expressionism (Art), Art, American -- 20th century, Painting, American