Key Dates: 1980-
A diverse art movement that dominated the art market in Europe and the United States during the early and mid-1980s. Neo-Expressionism comprised a varied assemblage of young artists who had returned to portraying the human body and other recognizable objects, in reaction to the remote, introverted, highly intellectualized abstract art production of the 1970s. The movement was linked to and in part generated by new and aggressive methods of salesmanship, media promotion, and marketing on the part of dealers and galleries.
Neo-Expressionist paintings themselves, though diverse in appearance, presented certain common traits. Among these were: a rejection of traditional standards of composition and design; an ambivalent and often brittle emotional tone that reflected contemporary urban life and values; a general lack of concern for pictorial idealization; the use of vivid but jarringly banal colour harmonies; and a simultaneously tense and playful presentation of objects in a primitivist manner that communicates a sense of inner disturbance, tension, alienation, and ambiguity (hence the term Neo-Expressionist to describe this approach). Among the principal artists of the movement were the Americans Julian Schnabel and David Salle, the Italians Sandro Chia and Francesco Clemente, and the Germans Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz. Neo-Expressionism was controversial both in the quality of its art products and in the highly commercialized aspects of its presentation to the art-buying public.