New York

Mimmo Paladino

Not long ago, a metropolis aiming to be a cosmopolis would host a world’s fair in order to call attention to itself. Nowadays such prestige is accorded to the city sponsoring a film festival or art fair. Given the mobility of contemporary art, and the likelihood of seeing the same sculpture in Venice (Italy) and Venice (California) in the same season, it would seem safe to suppose that an “International Style” could be evolving among younger artists.

Leading contender for International Style 1980 is the rampant New Imagism. It’s visible in Rome. In Chicago. San Francisco. Düsseldorf. Manhattan. Amsterdam. And in both Venices. Is this a groundswell of a true International Style or does it represent something else?

In the taxonomy of New Imagism (this is Richard Marshall’s term; Carter Ratcliff calls it emblematic abstraction, and it has a passel of other monikers, including New Wave and Naive Nouveau), it’s clear that what now is misunderstood as a national or international movement developed as a collection of quite disparate, regional styles. An incomplete précis of the pedigree: funny nightmare imagery was produced in the late ’60s by the Hairy Who, then students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The histrionic funk of the Bay Area artists William Wiley, Roy de Forest and Joan Brown came out of the fog of the late ’60s, pump-primed by the later appearance of the Chicagoans Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt in nearby Sacramento during the ’70s.

Downstate, in Lo-Cal, a group of students at Cal Arts (David Salle and Eric Fischl among them) began developing their own iconic styles in the early and mid ’70s before dispersing to points East.

Further downstate, the UC San Diego art students Robert Kushner and Kim MacConnel were kitsching up every available surface with fabric and doodles (between ’69 and ’71, mostly) while the teachers Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson would, in mid-decade, abandon formalist painting for personal representationalism.

Further East, but also on the grapefruit circuit (Texas and Florida, namely) James Surls, Bob Wade and Jim Roche all worked on regional icons that would now fit under the classification New Image. Their New Imagism is Old Regionalism.

Closer to New York, in Buffalo, Hallwalls spawned Robert Longo, Charles Clough and Nancy Dwyer. Meanwhile, working independently of each other, Michael Hurson in Chicago, Nicholas Africano in Normal, Illinois, Jonathan Borofsky, Robert Moskowitz, Denise Green, Neil Jenney, Ida Applebroog, and Steve Gianakos in Manhattan throughout the ’70s were developing quite personal and idiosyncratic approaches to portraiture and self-portraiture.

Picture the evolution of New Image this way: outsider and regional artists the whole country wide came to terms with figuration (without fanfare), emerging silently like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Can an International Style really be an accretion of regional and private styles?

This is the question to ask of the work of the Italians recently imported to Manhattan, beginning with the Francesco Clemente and Sandro Chia shows at Sperone Westwater Fischer last spring, continuing with “The Italian Wave” at Holly Solomon’s last summer, and crescendoing in the MIMMO PALADINO show at Marian Goodman plus the triple-threat exhibition of the “Three C’s” (ENZO CUCCHI, SANDRO CHIA and FRANCESCO CLEMENTE) at Sperone Westwater Fischer in October. Grumblings from various artists and interested parties had it that this October’s new Italian movement—as Arlo Guthrie said in Alice’s Restaurant, “One’s a protest, two’s company, three’s a crowd and four’s a movement”—was a pallid attempt by the Italians to jump on the American New Image bandwagon. Other nervous reactions suggested the reverse, that American New Imagism was only getting attention because it looked like Italian and German new figurative art; that it was rising in popularity because Europeans were buying it. These reactions speak of the general paranoia, nationalism and envy bloating the art world, but don’t say much about the significance of the work.

Carrie Rickey