by Alina Livneva6 February '19
Zombie formalism in art today
For the past 100 years, art movements moved in thrilling and mysterious ways. Creations of several extraordinary artists or collectives gained followers, became what we call art schools, influenced everything around them, and then diluted as there more derivative talents connected. The younger artists would rebel against, and the movement would fade out. This happened with impressionists, post-impressionists, fauvists, and abstract expressionists after the 1950s. In every case, the most original work led the way.
Most of it being made today is being driven by the market, and specifically by not very sophisticated speculator-collectors who prey on their wealthy connections, getting them to buy the same look-alike art.
The artists are only part of the problem here. Most are acting in good faith, making what they want and then selling it. But at least some of them are complicit, catering to hungry, high-yield risk-averse buyers, eager to be part of a rapidly widening niche industry. It’s called Modest Abstraction, Neo-Modernism, M.F.A. Abstraction, and Crapstraction. We like the term coined by the artist-critic Walter Robinson: Zombie Formalism.
Galleries everywhere are awash in these brand-name wallpaper looking canvases, mimicking creations of past influences. Art fairs are inundated with. These artists imitate the good old days of abstraction.
The work is decorator-friendly in a contemporary apartment especially. It feels “ok-ish” however offers no insight into anything at all. It’s all done in shades, deployed in uninventive arrangements. The idea is to tell us they can paint. Much of this work lacks the music. Instead, the visual is blending in.
Most Zombie Formalism looks pretty much the same in person as it does on iPhone and Instagram. Lacks complexity, structural presence, no surprises, and no unique visual or originality. It’s made for trade. Almost everyone who paints as this has come through art school. You can feel their teacher's views formed in the '60s and the knowledge passed is one of aesthetic monoculture.
In the end, we have to ask ourselves, is all contemporary abstract art so bad? Certainly, there are those painters who are doing their job better. Trendsetters have created a mess in the art market for financial sake and it comes to a halt. And we have to wonder are artists to be blamed? After more than a year, the debate is still in turmoil and we’ll just have to see how the events unfold in the future and whether the production of zombie formalist art will decrease if the art market climate changes.