Kinder! Macht Neues!

Galerie Rolf Ricke

As the title of an exhibition of abstract painting, “Kinder! macht Neues!” (Kids! do something new!) immediately provokes the question of whether it’s possible for today’s painters to find anything new in abstraction. Abstract art has been almost overloaded with meaning in this century. Was it revolutionary at the outset, expressing unknown, “universal” metaphors for mental states? How quickly did it become an icon of traditionalism, a sacred myth, like so many other myths of this century? One can still be moved to pose such questions when looking at contemporary abstract painting, but one can also be moved to ask whether abstract painting is even possible today. This exhibition, of 16 European and American painters, showed that it is.

In its paradigmatic stereotype, Modernist abstract painting was based on a belief in the strength of the individual personality. Its creators believed that nothing could limit their creative freedom—no spatial construction, no dependence on the outside world for either form or color. The artist was a genius who created from himself a new world identical with his own personality. The painterly gesture was crucial because it was that personality’s identifying mark. It was also the painter’s direct attempt at liberation into a state outside time and space.

The creators of classic Modernist abstraction thought they were bringing art to its highest point of development, but most of today’s artists have abandoned their hierarchical ideas. Abstraction has become just a choice among many. It may still have a liberatory goal, but in a far more limited sense. The paintings of Jonathan Lasker, David Reed, Fabian Marcaccio, and Steve DiBenedetto exhibited in “Kinder! macht Neues!” are mainly based on strict orders of planes—one on top of the other or one next to the other. This calculated, conceptual ordering skeptically questions ideas of artistic freedom and individuality.

Abstract art’s claim to superiority still echoes in the works of Lasker and DiBenedetto (even though these artists incorporate pop elements in the surface and color of their paintings). Other works in the exhibition are devoted to the consideration of color and its possible role as pure material (the paintings of Günter Umberg, John Zinsser, and Joseph Marioni, for example), and of the canvas as the vehicle for color (those of Steven Parrino). But none of the works exhibited here lays claim to abstraction’s exclusivity and total freedom. Rather, these artists demonstrate an affinity to tradition—a tradition from which they seem alienated, but which they nonetheless confront in order to create new possibilities for painting.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.