Modern-Post ModernIn the past few attempts to rationalise the passing of the Modernist era into what we've decided to call the Post-Modern era around 1960, the one thing that stands out is that this was a rather "messy" transition. With Abstract Expressionism being such a sensational success with artists in letting them indulge their wildest personal and emotional fantasies, its passing into the realm of just another exploited "ism" to be hung next to all the other work of past art movements in museums and expensive galleries was, and apparently still is pretty hard to take--almost like the death of a loved one. The fact that so many artists still insist upon visiting its grave underscores the fact that at least the era went out with a bang!
Now, this begs the question of how the Post-Modern era differs from Modernism. Is there any real difference between the two? Did we merely change labels for the sake of change? Did some cataclysmic event suddenly spell the end of one era and the birth of another? The answers seem to be, yes, yes, and no. Yes, there is a difference between the two, in appearances, of course...superficially at least...but mostly in philosophy. Everything that happened in the Modernist era since Manet through de Kooning was predicated on the romantic notion of the artist as an heroic explorer of the unknown, "boldly going where no man (or woman) had gone before". Because Modernism had come to embrace so much art history, it had reached its capacity to define anything? So in answer to the second question, yes, change was needed for the sake of change.
And finally, no, quite the opposite in fact. It was a slow death and a painful birth. It must have been daunting for the de Koonings and Klines to see the blood, sweat, and tears of their heroic efforts to blast art free of the last vestiges of representationalism become just another collected commodity with a price tag hanging from the frame. Here though, we come to grips with the most fundamental difference between the two eras. The artists of the Post Modern era today have not only come to accept the fact that they are "manufacturing" just another decorative commodity but to actually embrace the fact, emphasising it, making snide comments about it, and perhaps even more important, not feel the least bit of remorse or guilt in cashing in on it. Whereas the old school worried about "prostitution" the newborn pop artists who herald the advent of the Post-Modern era, glorified in every aspect of it.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
19 February 1998