Neo-Expressionism: Art of the 1980s

Published On: Dec 21 2012 05:56:35 PM EST

Julian Schnabel (American, b. 1951); A Boy from Naples, 1985, Etching and aquatint; Norton Museum of Art Collection © 2012 Julian Schnabel / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


The 1960s and 1970s witnessed what has been termed the “dematerialization” of the art object. The prevailing movements of the period favored austere expression; works with an economy of means often focused on the idea or concept rather than the object itself. In contrast, a return to the traditions of painting and sculpture characterized the 1980s.

Beginning in Germany and spreading to the United States, Neo-Expressionism comprised a varied assemblage of young artists who had returned to portraying the human body and other recognizable objects in reaction to the remote, introverted, highly intellectualized abstract art production of the 1970s.

New and aggressive methods of salesmanship, media promotion, and marketing on the part of art dealers and galleries helped to form the movement; while some criticized Neo-Expressionism for its political detachment and lack of engagement with broader social issues of the decade.

Julian Schnabel, at the 2010 Hamptons International Film Festival

Julian Schnabel played a critical role in the emergence of Neo-Expressionist painting in the U.S. Schnabel’s heroic scale, gestural brushstrokes, and figurative subject matter marked a radical shift in painting that the aesthetics of Minimalist and Conceptual art had dominated for nearly two decades. Schnabel came to prominence with his signature plate paintings. The series, notable for its heroic scale, flamboyant texture, and distorted subjects, transformed the traditional surface of the mosaic, the broken plates and cups project from the canvas like jagged, sculptural brushstrokes.

Later in the decade, Schnabel began making paintings that marked a change in imagery from one of excess to one of deliberate austerity and from pictorial narrative to oblique, linguistic, and visual reference.

Perhaps more than any one work, Schnabel’s career as a whole embodies the baroque sensibility of Neo-Expressionism.The audacious scale of the works; decadent combinations of oil painting and collage techniques; classical pictorial elements that historical art and contemporary culture inspired; and the blending of abstraction and figuration announced a sharp departure from the spare and concept-driven paintings of the 1970s.

From the curatorial notes of the Museum of Contemporary Arts Jacksonville for their current exhibit Refocus: Art of the 1980s.

Like / Follow

Related Articles


The views expressed below are not those of News4Jax or its affiliated companies. By clicking on "Post," you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Service and your comment is in compliance with such terms. Readers, please help keep this discussion respectful and on topic by flagging comments that are offensive or inappropriate (hover over the commenter's name and you'll see the flag option appear on right side of that line). And remember, respect goes both ways: Tolerance of others' opinions is important in a free discourse. If you're easily offended by strong opinions, you might skip reading comments entirely.

blog comments powered by Disqus