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Abstract Possible: The Birmingham Beat
6 October - 1 December 2012
Preview Saturday 6 October, 6-8pm / Curator’s Talk 4-6pm

Invited artists:
José León Cerrillo, Zachary Formwalt, Goldin+Senneby, Wade Guyton, Yelena Popova, Alejandra Salinas and Aeron Bergman

Curated by Maria Lind and amended by Eastside Projects.

To download the press release click here.

Why abstraction today? It has been argued that since the invention of abstraction in the early 20th century it never went away. This would explain why, at least from the point of view of 1996, there have been no neo-abstract movements since the 1960s.1 Regardless, abstraction has remained out of sight for quite a while. Having thus been obscured, abstraction can easily appear as an obsolete general phenomenon and redundant artistic tool. However, at this point in time there are several reasons for returning to this familiar trope.

One of the reasons is that as a quintessential 20th century invention abstraction has embarked on new routes in the 21st century. There is a palpable interest in abstraction since the late 1990s, particularly among younger artists and other cultural producers who both reinterpret the legacy of formal abstraction and shape performative – social – versions of abstraction (abstrahere, to withdraw). They also engage with abstraction thematically in terms of economic processes. Another reason to look at abstraction today is the special attention placed on the politics of representation, or perhaps better the organisation of the sensible within abstraction. On how something is being shaped or otherwise done, on articulation and the procedures and protocols informing that activity. This formalist focus on the ”how” of things is an approach which as of late has resonated in as different places as the so-called new public management of neo-liberal governance and the Occupy movement.

As an artistic and intellectual technique, with multiple expressions beyond the visual arts, one of abstraction’s key characteristics is the capacity for self-reflection. Abstraction as a visual strategy and aesthetic category was first used by the classical avant-garde in the early twentieth century. Although Paul Gaugin contended that all art is an abstraction it is important to consider self-conscious and specific forms of abstraction. Originally abstraction was linked to social and political utopias and yet it is most commonly known through Greenbergian postwar lenses which cleanse it from worldly connections. Such different narratives of the history of abstract art reflect the variety of versions of abstraction which have been at play since its early days. In fact, contradictions, rifts and exceptions are typical of abstract art, even within one and the same oeuvre. To this day abstraction is characterized by the co-existence of ideal and matter, transcendentalism and structuralism – an ambiguity which should be acknowledged and explored rather than shied away from. Abstract Possible: The Birmingham Beat suggests that we pay attention to and reconsider certain crucial aspects, some of which are clearly “worldly”, others which are idealistic and yet others which combine both features, of the phenomenon of abstraction as it pertains to its intriguing resurgence in contemporary art.

The art works in Abstract Possible: The Birmingham Beat at Eastside Projects in Birmingham involve and complicate the three strands of abstraction: formal abstraction, economic abstraction and social abstraction.

Abstract Possible is a research project that aims to explore notions of abstraction, taking contemporary art as its starting point. Since 2010 the project has developed in four cities: at Malmö konsthall in Malmö, Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, the White Space in Zurich and in Stockholm at Tensta konsthall, Bukowskis auction house and the Center for Fashion Studies, the University of Stockholm, respectively. A further iteration is planned at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart in Stuttgart.

Maria Lind, 2012

1 Mark Rosenthal: Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline, catalogue Guggenheim Museum, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1996.