A Brief Rant on the Exhaustion of the Avant-Garde, Zombie Formalism and What Contemporary Painting Needs To Move Forward

January 27, 2015 8:38 PM

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Hard to believe, isn't it, but Renoir's Nude in the Sun was once considered threatening: when first exhibited it's Impressionist palette violated long-standing academic rules about the use of color in shadows. These days you won't find a museum director anywhere in the world who wouldn't covet the tiny, sun-dappled nude, and the once offensive image is emblazoned on a coffee mug that can be purchased on eBay for $13.99 with free shipping. Now that it's original aura of challenge and disruption has dissipated a work of art that was once cutting-edge has now entered another category: it is a certified and fully commoditized masterpiece. Nude in the Sun should be considered "formerly avant-garde" as the cultural shock that it once evoked was exhausted years, even generations ago.

To fully understand the original antipathy critics felt towards Renoir and other French modernists -- Wolff, for example, felt that Manet was an improviser whose work was marred by searching, hesitation and pain -- it is important to recall that the sclerotic critic was defending the aesthetic ideal...

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