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Wait—What Was That?!: History’s Bygone Art Movements

“Fame,” according to art critic Henry McBride, “is a most uncertain garment.” The same is true of art movements and labels. Some—Abstract Expressionism, for instance—are familiar to the average museumgoer. However, others that were at one time in the vanguard have slipped into the shadows and are now the province of art historians and other specialists. Below, an unabashedly opinionated deep dive into the terms, artists, and movements that may once have seemed destined for the canon but that now chart as footnotes, as well as many that have returned to the forefront, working their magic on artists and audiences anew.

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KEY
Chicago Imagism (1970s) Revived in several New York galleries lately. Its exotic cartoon figuration redounds in the work of countless young artists.
Pattern and Decoration (1975–85) Its commitment to craft remains a touchtone for feminist artists.
Supports/Surfaces (Early 1970s) Groovy downtown New York gallery Canada gave it a group show in 2015 and Roberta Smith noted its focus on painting’s bare essentials is “timely” in an age when abstraction is in “back-to-basics mode.”
Independent Group (1950s) The London artists, designers, and architects have long been a footnote preceding Pop, but their zany approach to commerical culture anticipates the advertising- and meme-filled internet.
Neo-Expressionism (1980s) Very male, very white, very derivative. And yet, some of its exponents—Martin Kippenberger, Julian Schnabel—hold profound sway over superb emerging artists.
Stuckism (Late 1990s) An odd, reactionary group of Brits, to be sure, but their commitment to vernacular painting has proven strangely prescient.
Zombie Formalism (Ca. 2010) Largely a market phenomenon.
Neo-Geo (1980s) The term has vanished—no one could agree what it signified—though disparate artists once tagged with it are now in the canon, like Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach, and issues it explored—commodity fetishism, high-end production—endure.
Vorticism (1914–18) Vanquished by the flow of time, but Jacob Epstein’s angular sculptures have defined the look of Star Wars droids, which is something.

ABOVE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Joyce Kozloff, Three Portals…pink triangle, 1977; Suellen Rocca, Easy to Handle, 1968; Claude Viallat, Untitled, 1966; Peter Halley, Two Cells With Circulating Conduit, 1987; Hugh Scott Douglas, Untitled, 2012; Jacob Epstein, The Rock Drill, ca. 1913-15. CREDITS: COURTESY THE ARTIST AND DC MOORE GALLERY, NEW YORK/PRIVATE COLLECTION; ©SUELLEN ROCCA/COURTESY MATTHEW MARKS GALLERY; ©CLAUDE VIALLAT; COURTESY PETER HALLEY AND MODERN ART, LONDON/PRIVATE COLLECTION; COURTESY PHILLIPS; WIKIMEDIA CREATIVE COMMONS/PD-US/THE MODERNISM LAB AT YALE UNIVERSITY

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A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of ARTnews on page 96 under the title “Wait–What Was That?!.”

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