The following is the postscript to Golden Age: Perspectives on Abstract Painting Today, eds. Marco Antonini and Christopher K. Ho (New York: NURTUREart, 2014)
1. One pressing task for contemporary abstract painters is to identify procedures that genuinely aid self-actualization, and to distinguish them from merely self-indulgent ones. Insofar as David Xu Borgonjon, Keenan Jay, and Lauren Martin recast modernist self-reflexivity as self-fulfillment (see interview, p. 104), each painter (formerly artwork) progresses towards actualization (formerly the essence) of him- or herself (formerly the medium). Here, compositional awkwardness and hesitant brushwork indicate nebulous subject formation rather than function as anti-academic gestures (Sharon Butler), symptomatize painting’s attenuated authority (Raphael Rubinstein), or reflect capitalist conditions (see Lane Reylea essay, p. 56). A corollary challenge: the viewer must judge the maker’s character, and his and her evolution towards it, rather than qualities in the work itself. Such might ben an update to what Stephen Truax and Gregory Sholette refer to as the “ontological crisis of (artistic) subjecthood” (see interview, p. 14 and essay, p. 92).
2. A second task for contemporary abstract painters is to differentiate virtuosity (here used differently than in Reylea’s postscript, p. 58) from facility. Sholette points to the recent contradiction between object makers and social practitioners (see essay, p. 90). The latter further splits into (older) activist art that effects change, and (newer) relational and/or antagonist art that reflects the structure of democracy and/or sustained conflict. A third option: art that fosters better-expressed people, who in turn constitute a better—more virtuous—citizenry (see Borgonjon et al. interview, p. 104). In art, to achieve virtuosity, one practices daily and hones through exercises; this might explain the large volume and small scale of abstract painting in Bushwick and elsewhere (see Ariel Dill, Lauren Portada, and Stephen Truax interview, p. 10). Becoming-expert also requires self-discipline, the opposite of indulgence. In this regard Vince Contarino’s material and gestural economy, and Jonathan Allmaier’s systematic explorations are exemplary (see images, p. 22-23, 47 and p. 51, 103).
3. A third task for contemporary abstract painters: to approach pragmatics as the basis for political realism rather than as a coping mechanism. Keith J. Varadi comments, “if you have recently moved to New York and are struggling to pay rent, and if you’re making delicate, dandyish small paintings in a 200-square-foot studio by yourself, that’s totally understandable” (see interview, p. 83). Here, the danger is not so much that Bushwick abstraction misconstrues the petit-bourgeois fantasy of consumption as realm of personal autonomy (a mirror of and correlate to the pitfalls Reylea describes for DIY production [see essay, p. 56]), but that it excuses disengagement. Constructive and timely would be if pragmatism begets a politics different than that of ’68 and its current rejoinder, the Tea Party, i.e., a politics absent revolutionary and/or ideological pitch. As President Obama recently stated on healthcare: “It makes sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch.”
4. A fourth task for contemporary abstract painters is to make conscientious art instead of, or in addition to, that which alters the sensible, to use Jacque Rancière’s now ubiquitous term (see Dill et al. interview, p. 17). Generous art—art mindful of and responsible to others—tempers modernism’s self-reflexivity and the current generation’s admixture of willful solipsism and unselfconscious (un-ironic, authentic, unmediated) technique. Previous golden ages have produced creative flourish. They also often heralded the birth and strengthening of civic institutions. In contrast, modern and market art alike overlook and underestimate the middle, privileging various outliers: visionaries, revolutionaries, and art stars. As the wealth gap widens in the United States, and as demagoguery erodes centrist American politics, might it be incumbent on artists to align with the middle, to embrace moderation? At worst contemporary abstract painting signals a rappel à l’ordre (see David Geers essay, p 32); at best it is civic minded.