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RE MODernism
Trajectories towards the NU Modern

essay by Kevin Radley

One of the notable strategies of the modern era (beginning in the late 19th century) was toward gestures of renewal, reevaluation, and re-invention. That which was modern could be associated with the immediate and the future - i.e., progress. The early Modernists readily challenged the social, material, and cultural conventions of their time, spawning such developments as Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Futurism, and Abstract Expressionism. While these groups worked very distinctly from one another, they did share a common thread: an urgency to ascertain and express that which was singularly modern.

By the mid to late 1970s, the great modernist ideologies had begun to sway under their own weight. Overburdened by its own theoretical underpinnings, frozen in its aesthetic, its cultural discourse, and its hegemony, Modernism begins to lose its luster and its progressive illuminations. No longer did it carry the same radiant enthusiasm for invention as it had for its puckish progenitors, Marenetti, Duchamp, Man Ray, Dali, the Futurists, et al. It was time for a change. It was time to break things up, because it became clear that, in fact, no single truth was self-evident.

From the mid seventies through the late nineties, the notion of the postmodern directly challenged the notion of the single voice. The ironclad melting pot became the salad bowl. Layers of meaning took precedence, and multiple truths became the self- evident truth. The hegemonic handcuffs come off, and the culture wars began. Anarchy, multiplicity, and multiculturalism resonated with the new obvious truth: of course there is more than one culture, more that one ethnicity, and more than one gender to initiate and be included in cultural process, discourse and participation. Puck turns to Punk as history becomes a tool of irony and SeX PisTol cynicism rages in the chorus "No more Future."

From the postmodern we learn that the cultural others have a voice, that layers of meaning do offer choice, and that through collaboration that we achieve a broader level of understanding in defining those others. We have devised new investigative tools regarding identity, community and the overall cultural terrain. However, for nearly a quarter of a century the postmodern dialectic has in itself become overtly pragmatic and complex. That which was once richly layered and faceted has now become fractured and with out center. Within that, there seems to be a re-emergence of confidence in the artist's singular voice - a renewal of the belief that an artist can explore their own natures without the restraints of the ironic, the cynical or the didactic. To re-contact the notions of presence, reinvent their sense of beauty and renew our need for intimacy. Is this a return to earnest individualism? Could this be the emergence of the Nu modern - remodernism, or remo? I suggest that we let the artist decide.


Kevin Radley
January 1, 2002

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