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ABSTRACT JESTURES

EVERYONE KNOWS THAT abstract painting is “back,” after a decade’s spate of image-ridden art, but what kind of claim on our attention can it make? Is it now—can it be—anything but a periodically reappearing spoke on the Great Wheel of Art Fashion? Those who say that abstract painting is back are often saying nothing more than that it is back at the heart of the contemporary art market. But I think we might legitimately intend more than that. The past ten years’ engagement with tactics of representation in and around art has changed irrevocably what and how picture-making means, including abstract picture-making. We have only begun to detail these changes; the purpose of this essay is to note one of them.

The touchstone of my thinking about abstraction these days is a group of nonfigurative paintings made over the last decade or so by Gerhard Richter, some of which were included in his recent

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