Perhaps one of the more well-known art movements, Neo-Expressionism sees artists producing large-scale works that make use of intense colors and expressive brushwork, they are highly textural and the subjects appear raw and harsh. A method previously rejected by the art establishment.
The common traits weaved throughout Neo-Expressionist paintings were the rejection of the traditional standards of design and composition, as well as an emotional tone that was indecisive, and a tense but playful presentation of objects. The underlying communication being a sense of tension, ambiguity, disaffection and trouble. Yet linked to the new method of marketing which included aggressive methods of promotion by the media, and the hard sell.
Despite that the artists behind the Neo-Expressionist works were actually closely linked to the commercial side of the art galleries, critics and media. Because of that questions were asked of whether the art was authentic, as the motivation appeared to be monetary.
Georg Baselitz opened an exhibition in Germany in 1963 which is when Neo-Expressionism arrived. Controversial is an understatement; the art was confiscated, with one painting involving masturbation and another depicting a male erection. While Baselitz’s following exhibitions weren’t as controversial, the art world had already taken notice.
A lot of scholar’s credit Neo-Expressionism as being the bridge between modernism and postmodernism, that could be due to the fact that the movement embraced the art of storytelling. There was a split, though, because some art critics were delighted to see the return of this type of art, while others simply dismissed it and criticized the nostalgia surrounding it.
Part of the controversy was also because there wasn’t much room or regard for women in the movement, painters like Elizabeth Murray and Maria Lassnig were omitted from many key exhibitions. The “New Spirit in Painting” exhibition which was held in London in 1981 featured 38 male artists and not a single woman. In fact, when you glace at the artists that were involved in the movement there were well over 60 men, while less than 5 women.
Neo-Expressionism was the main art movement, throughout the United States and Europe, right through the mid 1980’s, but it couldn’t survive beyond that, as art is ever changing and progressing. Just like other forms of art such as writing and music, art moves with society and while it can be progressive like Neo-Expressionism was, it can also be reactive to the world around it. We see reactionary art forms in the Dado, Neo-Dado and New Realism movements.
The primary art figures involved in the Neo-Expressionist movement were Sandra Chia, Francesco Clemente, Markus Lupertz, Enzo Cucci, Anselm Kiefer, Jorg Immendorff, Julian Schnabel and A. R. Penck. Much like a firework, Neo-Expressionism burst onto the scene with a bright burst of color and disappeared just as quickly.