It was hard to see the Jewish Museum’s “New York: 1962–1964” (2022/23) and not compare it to the present downtown situation. Displaying over 40 artists who had been shown on two avenues over the course of three years, the exhibition simulated what it might have felt like to roam the galleries on a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1963; you could witness the fascination for life on the periphery of Edwards, Marisol, and Rauschenberg or get pulled into the metropolitan allure of advertisement in Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and Strider. Or, if you were even luckier, you would get to engage the metaphysical matter of scale in Bontecou, Noguchi, and Noland. In the search for an order larger than themselves, a quest for a system wider than the limits of the individual would permit, these artists worked on leaving the romantic Ab-Ex bohemians behind, venturing collectively on formalizing an American vernacular, trying to render its beauty and abyss available in a single glance.
The Jewish Museum’s exhibition was in many ways prescient because it anticipated the return of a long for late modernist form. With Greenberg reading groups popping up all over lower Manhattan over the past year, modernism seems to promise a skillset for how to look at art, espousing the obsession with art as a reading exercise. Suddenly, there is a charm again in art as an aesthetic matter, an art not just for the mind but also for the eye, an art that can think of form not just as a vehicle of (self-)critique à la Duchamp but as a medium to get you up there, wherever that might be.
We don't think that this fascination with modernism is merely nostalgic, a cynical backlash to the identity (de-)constructions of the past decades. It might be just as much a part of the realization that the sensibilities of postmodernism, particularly its aspiration to turn art into a tool to directly intervene in politics, was itself a defensive symptom of an overwhelming feeling of incapacitation, post-Reagan and post-Trump alike. It might be the realization that there is not only money in beautiful paintings but, against all odds, also the channeling of New York Times morality into the white cube.
The reviews in this issue deal in different ways with this return of modernism, of a nascent neo-modernism, asking how it is grafted onto the zombie ideas of the 1970s and 1980s, and how we might finally get out of these much-explored dead ends. This will be the last issue of its kind. From now on, we will start publishing continuously as the season goes on. This is primarily a matter of speed, as putting out an issue takes just as long, and by the time it is out, the exhibitions have often been closed for months. Subscribe to stay tuned about these pieces.