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"New York Expression: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, David Salle, George Condo, Donald Baechler "
2002-02-15 until 2002-04-28
Bergen Art Museum
Bergen, , NO Norway

The art in this exhibition is young and urbane. Some of the artists had origins in the illegal graffiti art in New York in the '80s. Six more or less art-educated men plunged into the established art scene in New York with a new creative energy and an artistic expression which would come to change the contemporary artistic expression completely. Their work was figurative and narrative in a neo-expressionistic style; they painted with references to both popular culture and to traditional art, and they rebelled against movements. They were independent artists.

New York was still a roiling melting pot--white art school kids collided with the proto-hip hop funk generation of blacks, Latin music blared from bodegas with new rhythmic ideas tripping from the timbales; Europeans checked into town looking for rock and roll. The price was right. New York was in recession. The East Village, especially Alphabet City looked like postwar Berlin. Its mean streets served as a drug supermarket and its abandoned buildings were squats for young homesteaders. The city was still awesome and sublime, with its towers of glass and steel. It was still the capital of finance, art and culture. But somehow it was perfectly balanced by the ripeness of decay at its edges. The East Village, with its legacy of beatniks and bebop, was the perfect crash pad/launch pad for a revolution. (...) The city possessed qualities that perfectly stimulated the growth of young artists. ( From Glenn O´Brien article in the catalogue)

It is in this context that the six artists in New York Expression developed into artists who would set the trend in art in New York and the rest of the US in the 1980's. It was only a few years from the time some of them did illegal graffiti-tagging in the subway and streets of NY, or were a real TV–kids or energetic readers of cartoons until they were considered to be some of the hottest artists in the city. The gallery owners fought to have them, the art dealers lined up and the art was sold for remarkably high prices. Several artists were active in the milieu associated with Andy Warhol's studio, The Factory. Later they held exhibitions and had their work bought by prestigious museums in the USA, Paris, Amsterdam, London, several places in Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Japan.

The only one of them who did not have any formal art education was Jean-Michel Basquiat. This did not seem to matter either for his status as an artist or for the enormous fame he got. After some years of graffiti painting in the streets of New York under the signature SAMO (Same Old Shit) he entered the legal art scene in New York in 1980. He quickly obtained the status of one of the most innovative and creative artists and was the first recognized black artist in the USA. When he died of a heroin overdose in 1988, at only 27 years, he had already painted an enormous body of work.

Keith Haring returned to the line of the drawing. Figures that could be compared with drawings from a child’s school notebook or with sketches demonstrate simultaneously the artist’s desire to return to one of the basic primary compositional elements of painting, the line. In this exhibition we can be amused by several of his sexual images, full of humor and irony. Haring died of aids in 1990, only 31 years old.

Kenny Scharf have always been fascinated of the visions of the future and his paintings can be characterized as surrealistic worlds where elements of graffiti are being mixed with figures of well known figurer from cartoons i.e. from the Flintstones and the Jetsons. In his paintings the scary and the dreamlike are presented side by side.

David Salle blend the past and the present in paintings with a compositional structure that urge the viewer’s eye to wander. Salle’s work offers successive iconographic under layers of painterly ground. These visual signs in his works are more than anything else examples of the artist’s effort to enrich his plastic language by constantly tapping into the unconscious and the subconscious of the iconographic self.

George Condo's works are being described as figurative abstraction. We can find elements of both surrealism and cubism, and in the same time elements of high and low culture. He can often paint bizarre figures and we can find elements of jazz music in his paintings.

Donald Baechler´s paintings from the 1980´s have a naivistic expression, where many of his paintings are of human figures and human heads. With the line of his painting (or drawing) light but distinct, like a child who draws spontaneously and carefully, Baechler offers us figures that point out the need for us to return to the primary elements of the very act of painting: as zo-graphein (drawing life), i.e. the iconography of life, of people’s everyday life.

IMAGE:
George Condo
The Gardner's Dream, 1995


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