Who's Afraid of the New Abstraction?

Lucien Smith, Over my dead body, 2014, oil on canvas, 96 x 73 inches (courtesy o
Lucien Smith, Over my dead body, 2014, oil on canvas, 96 x 73 inches (courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt Gallery)

Alex Bacon and Jarrett Earnest discuss current trends in abstract painting, and the labels "crapstraction" and "zombie formalism."

Bacon comments: "Today an artist can make anything and painting no longer has any particular weight... Many of these artists don’t have a background in painting, and nor do they need to; after all a shallow thing that is hung parallel to the wall has as much to do with digital technology—those shallow objects like tablets, smartphones and flat-screen televisions that serve as vehicles for the delivery of any range of content and imagery—today as it does with painting’s art historical legacy. For artists that are trying to address questions of perception and materials, and even of space, something like painting becomes a useful mode to adopt. Painting here is a tool, much more so than a historical conversation. It is a lens, a frame, a proposition for something that poses as, adopts the form of, etc., a painting...

To understand the formal activity of the work we have to understand process as a means to an end, though “process” has become for collectors a new form of iconography. For a long time people struggled with how to read abstraction: 'What is it about? How do I understand it?' Today I’ve been told, and it seems true, that it is easier to sell this kind of abstraction because people like the fetishized story of the artist’s process—what actually amounts to a lot of banal stuff: this artist had a canvas silver-plated; this artist had this fabric dyed; this artist left this out in the sun. These artists are more like architects or engineers or managers finding experts to help them realize ideas. The majority of one of these artists’ time is not spent putting the gesso on a canvas, but organizing the people who can help him or her execute the work to a certain standard. This has an obvious precedent in the role of fabrication in minimal and conceptual art."