“Ism” as in Metamodernism: The Most Ambiguous “ism” of All


Metamodern Art. Metamodernism: The Most Ambiguous 'Ism' of All.. Metamodern Art

”What often compartmentalizes contemporary art and metamodernism from the average person’s realm of understanding is in how it’s intellectualized by its critics and historians.”


By Dameon Rush
“Boy Falling from Tree” (above) by Jeff Wall

The intellectuals of art and metamodernism tend be very verbose and complex in their interpretations and explanations of what art is. Perhaps it’s because art is very hard to interpret in any homogenized way, hence, the “isms”. What often compartmentalizes contemporary art from the average person’s realm of understanding is in how it’s intellectualized by its critics and historians.

H. W. Janson wrote, “It has always been easier to invent new labels than to create a movement in art that truly deserves a new name”. Metamodernism as introduce by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker was a way to offer some clarity to what many critics and museum curators were referring to as the post-postmodern or “past”-modern.

Metamodern Art. Metamodernism: The Most Ambiguous "ism" of All.
“Fall II” by Bas Jan Ader

Artists are scrambling through narrative to narrative, moving through ism after ism and others are trying to avoid them altogether. Some are exploring psychological or anthropological metaphors to pop-culture and socio-political trends. An intellectualized curriculum in art overshadows the disciplines of technique and traditions from the past. The environments we occupy become the media. The world around us becomes the exhibition.

“In Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker’s Notes on Metamodernism, they assert that the 2000’s were characterized by the return of typically modern positions that did not forfeit the postmodern mindsets of the 1980s and 1990s. The prefix “meta” here refers not to a reflective stance or repeated rumination, but to Plato’s metaxy, which denotes a movement between opposite poles as well as beyond them.”

Metamodern Art. Metamodernism: The Most Ambiguous "ism" of All.
“After Broken Fall” by Bas Jan Ader (Video)

A defining qualifier in any art movement is access to technology and materials not available before. The Italian and Dutch painters from the Renaissance were perfecting the chemistry and mixology of painting. The Impressionists were grinding new pigments acquired through industrialization and so forth. The modern era brought us synthetic alkyds, atomic bombs and Future Shock. Living under the new threat of Mutual Assured Destruction artists express more intense levels of cynicism, apprehension and deeper reflection through their art.

Our society has achieved a remarkable balance of Sustainable Destruction. As there are those who rebel against irresponsible science and leadership, there will also be artists who evolve their message through science and leadership. Dr. Steven Kurtz is an artist who encountered much sadness and controversy. As a scientist, he confronts art with the dynamics of science in very socially relevant and at times frightening ways. Through time the artists and intellectuals have always been scrutinized by the institutions.

Metamodern Art. Metamodernism: The Most Ambiguous "ism" of All.
“Man Falls from Balcony”, 1874 (another version). Genoa, Sanctuary of Nostra Signora del Monte

Metamodern art is a culmination of everything from the modern to the postmodern, reinvented or borrowed from. But the new intellectualism demands more than just indifference and ambiguity. Much “fun” was had in the postmodern and a preference to chance effects over the disciplines of classical and modernist painting and sculpture permeated the scene. Atonal music, spoken word and avant garde filmmaking were reaching the spotlight.

Like everything in art, the trends and cultural manifestations come full circle. Then it begins all over again in a different key, but occasionally keeping some original chord structure or rhythm. The same could be said of metamodernism and the defining changes of movements or “isms” to come.

Metamodern Art. Metamodernism: The Most Ambiguous "ism" of All.
“Leap into the Void” by Yves Klein

All art and science is excused for its rumination when a relevant “ism” and thoughtful adaptation occurs. Most artists will tell you, it’s all been done before in one way or another. Although any new variation may lead to a new “ism” and a well marketed show, once technique and style goes through enough theory and practice and conceptualization has been explored to some extent, we are still caught between the voids of artistic originalism and neo-originalism.

The images presented in this article are examples of a similar concept being explored by different artists spanning over a hundred years. The mindsets of course were different, and the techniques of execution. Whether they represent an iconic expression of faith, an elaborate technical illusion or a personal desire to plunge into the void, the end result invokes the same narrative retold throughout the ages. Gravity sucks.

Metamodern Art. Metamodernism: The Most Ambiguous "Ism" of them All.
 Kerry Skarbakka falling off a ladder. Photo by artist Kerry Skarbakka.

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