Abstract art went through several changes during its more than a hundred years long history. I would like to picture the processes by mentioning only a few of the most important events and the artists who were involved in them.
Abstract geometric art started in the 1910s and 1920s with the tendencies of Suprematism (Kazimir Malevich), Neoplasticism (Piet Mondrian) and Pictorial Architecture (Lajos Kassák). In the 1930s and 1940s, artists working in Paris and Zürich created a tendency called Concrete Art (Francois Morellet, Max Bill). The next turning point was the consequence of the emerging American art scene, when the abstract versions of Pop Art appeared such as Hard Edge and Color Field Painting (Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly). There are not only two-dimensional but also three-dimensional variations of geometric abstract art, sometimes even in the form of three-dimensional paintings or colourful sculptures (Anthony Caro, Frank Stella). The new geometry of the 1980s, the Neo-Geo (Gerwald Rockenschaub, Peter Halley), led to even newer variations, which don’t even have a name yet (Ruth Root, Ann Pibal).
Expressive abstraction – that began in 1910 with an abstract watercolour painting of Wassily Kandinsky according to art history – was a version of the German, mostly figurative expressionism. By the 1940s and 1950s Tachisme and Informalism was common all around Europe (Jean Bazaine, Georges Mathieu, Emilio Vedova, Emil Schumacher). In the USA Abstract Expressionist artists’ (Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko) works started the process that led to the outburst of American art in Europe. The capital of art became New York instead of Paris. In the 1960s there are other tendencies that we can call expressive, such as the use of natural materials as objects, arranged as installations or used on the scale of landscapes: Arte Povera (Mario Merz, Jannis Kounellis) and Land Art (Michael Heizer). There are examples to these nowadays as well (Katharina Grosse). The current form of expressive art – just like geometric art – is largely based on the use of new media technologies and the way these significantly influence visuality. The postmodern turn of the 1980s enabled art historical reactions: Transavantgarde (Sandro Chia) and Neue Wilde (Rainer Fetting). By the 1990s the combination of geometry and expressionism appeared (Bernd Ribbeck, Sterling Ruby).
Abstract art was born in the beginning of the 20th century as a self-reflection of art, as an analytic examination of the very specific language of art. This included both positivist and existentialist approaches. Use of the visual language as a textbook appeared from the 1920s within Bauhaus (Wassily Kandinsky: Point and Line to Plane; Paul Klee: Pedagogical Notebooks; Johannes Itten: The Art of Color). On the other hand, from the 1920s we can also see some different metaphysical, or sometimes even esoteric ideas (Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich), but similar approaches appear in works of young artists nowadays as well (Bernd Ribbeck).
With this very brief description above I tried to imply that every artistic conception can only be understood within the course of its own, more than a hundred years long history, and that is also how we can judge its actuality today.
The diversity of contemporary art comes from the fact that different styles, perceptions, use of tools – just like the geometric and expressionist tendencies – progressed to the present through specific processes in their history. The way that even the so-called advanced and new artistic forms such as video art, conceptual art or installation art relate to their own, almost fifty years long history, tells us how current they are. These parallel histories lead to the present, showing the diversity and complexity of contemporary art. So the contemporary nature of the abstract artists today depends on if they can exceed the previous stages of art history, if they can create a current and personal version of their style’s programme, if they can constantly renew. And if they seem to give up on the avant-garde utopia and illusion of transforming the society (Russian avant-garde, De Stijl Movement) then what remains as a task is the eternal artistic programme of exploring the human existence, soul and spirit.
With this exhibition we can see a few distinctive and positive examples to the solutions of the above mentioned challenges and tasks.