Essay

NEW REALISM: Looking Forward and Back

NEW REALISM: Looking Forward and Back

NEW REALISM: Looking Forward and Back

NEW REALISM: Looking Forward and Back

“The past and present wilt – I have fill’d them, emptied them, and proceed to fill my next fold of the future.”
— Song of Myself, Walt Whitman


For our inaugural exhibition, Isabel Sullivan Gallery is pleased to present, New Realism: Looking Forward and Back, on view through April 27, featuring recent work by Neil Jenney, Joseph Santore, Elisa Jensen, Frank Webster, Victor Leger, and Mercer Tullis.


Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, 1849, Oil on Canvas, 64.9 in x 101.1 in., The painting was destroyed during its transportation from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meisterin in Dresden due to the bombing in the city in 1945 during the Second World War. 


Throughout the History of Art, a myriad of moments existed in which Realism emerged as a central mode of visual expression. First developing in mid 19th Century France following the February Revolution of 1848, Realism sought to portray truthful and objective depictions of everyday life. Functioning as a direct observation of the modern world, the artistic movement was politically charged and echoed French society’s advocation for democratic reform, and as a result, elevated the cultural position of the proletariat to celebrated subject matter.

 


Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926, Tempera and Oil Paint on Wood, 47.2 x 34.5 cm, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 



George Grosz, The Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse, 1927, Oil on Canvas, 23.37 x 29. in., Museum of Modern Art, New York


One of the next European iterations of Realism was embodied in the work of German artists Otto Dix and George Grosz’s meticulous Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) paintings. Created during the short-lived Weimar Republic, New Objectivity responded to the brutality of the First World War and lasted for just over a decade, beginning around 1920. Solidifying what would eventually become intrinsic components of Realism, New Objectivity drew parallels with its French counterpart as it returned to objective depictions of the world, and turned away from the more expressionistic, abstract or sentimental qualities of Fauvism and Cubism.


Edward Hopper, Office in a Small City, 1953, Oil on Canvas,  28 × 40 in., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

George Bellows, Dempsey and Firbo, 1924, Oil on Canvas, 51 x 63.2 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 


In between these two currents of Realism, across the Atlantic in America, the turn of the 19th century saw rapid and unprecedented social, political and economic change. Artists like Edward Hopper and George Bellows created a new American visual idiom through their depictions of the urbanization of America and shifting class structures. American Realism, and in particular, the New York and East Coast schools, abandoned dominant and long standing subject matter, such as bucolic scenes or quiet moments of domesticity and interiors. Instead, they turned to scenes of industrialization, the restructuring of social order through the growth of the middle class, the creation of new professions and expanding educational opportunities and the rise of leisure and recreational activities. American realism was marked by modernity, transformation, progressive social metamorphosis and an ever expanding sense of self-understanding and personal expression.

Despite the disparate geographical production of these Realist movements, what each respective iteration shares most prominently is their emergence and proliferation following moments of profound social, political or cultural change. Realism, in spite of not having a singular, visual pursuit has always been anchored by a direct engagement, observation and representation of the modern world, in all of its contradicting beauty, brutality and vitality. Shifting the paradigms, both visual and thematic, and reshaping more broadly practiced modes of painting, Realism has always centered on painting as a mode of transcription and transformation.



The past few years have been no exception to this artistic penchant, as there has been an increase in artists returning to themes intrinsic to Realism, and a recommitment to time honored subjects, such as genre, landscape and figurative. Realism has always functioned primarily as a means to record our epoch and its dwellers, however in its present context, the paintings included possess both objectivity and expression. Through Jenney’s painted, sculptural landscapes, to Jensen’s shadowed, yet vibrant, intimate interiors, to Santore’s dynamic and existential paintings, to Tullis’s meditative yet piercing graphite works, and finally to Webster and Leger’s serene topographical canvases, through the assemblage of this exhibition, we pose the question: What is Realism today?

Presenting a selection of paintings that simultaneously explore and expand upon various concepts and technical aspects of Realism, the exhibition serves as an ingression into this inquiry. Realism in this context reflects the modern human condition, our existential concerns, ecological and social preoccupations, and stands as an act of reclamation of the three-dimensional picture plane. Turning away from abstraction, the artists exhibited explore internal, external, and natural worlds, reflecting each back to us to behold, to momentarily possess, and to stir a particular affect. The exhibition presents a visual symposium of artists looking both forward and back, and painting through the tides of today. 


NEW REALISM: Looking Forward and Back is on view until Sunday, April 27, 2024.


ISABEL SULLIVAN

— GALLERY

39 Lispenard St.
New York

Tuesday—Saturday: 10am—6pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed

ISABEL SULLIVAN

— GALLERY

39 Lispenard St.
New York

Tuesday—Saturday: 10am—6pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed

ISABEL SULLIVAN

— GALLERY

39 Lispenard St.
New York

Tuesday—Saturday: 10am—6pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed

ISABEL SULLIVAN

— GALLERY

39 Lispenard St.
New York

Tuesday—Saturday: 10am—6pm
Sunday—Monday: Closed