The Bridge That Tied Modernism to Post-modernism

Neo-Expressionism: Emergence and Style

Neo-expressionism was, predominantly, moving away from the intellectual and abstract artistic approach of the preceding decade and reconnecting with the expressionist traditions before World War II (Sotheby’s, 2020). Romantic and historical themes were on the table again, as well as, mythology, nature, and primitivism. The subject presented within a frame of abstraction sought to portray the alienation and isolation of the human being as a consequence of modern society (visual-arts-cork, 2021). This portrait was delivered in an uncertain and, in many cases, fragile emotional tone which was mainly via the style. Brushstrokes were bordering on aggressive, summing up to a thick layer of intense colors, also it was typical to receive a neo-expressionist painting on large scales (Britannica, 2019; Kordic, 2015). The movement appeared in slightly different forms in different parts of Europe and the U.S.A.

George Baselitz, “Ein moderner Maler”, 1966. Oil on canvas, 162x130cm. Acquired with funds from the Foundation DKLB, Berlin 1991

Germany, Neue Wilden

Germany had been dealing with the aftermath of the Nazi era. Historical themes were still highly relevant and so we’re dealing with a post-war German identity (Wolf, 2014). The work of Anselm Kiefer is mentioned as the principal example in this regard. While, on another note, one of the most memorable moments of the movement was the dismantling of Georg Baselitz’s exhibition in Berlin, shortly after opening, the reason being indecency. Some of the paintings depicted masturbation and some male figures with erections (Kordic, 2015).

Francesco Clemente – Untitled Self Portrait, 1993. Color digital inkjet print on handmade paper, 26.7 x 40.6 cm. Edition of 250. Courtesy Robert Fontaine Gallery Miami

Italy, Transavanguardia

Critic Oliva named the movement in Italy, which in literal translation means beyond the avant-garde. The movement was considered a response to Italian Arte Povera. Quite similar to that of their German contemporaries, the work of Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi was highly parodical. Enzo Cucchi’s work reminded of paintings found in caves with darkness dominating colors and containing symbols like flames and livestock. Although Clemente spent his life away from Italy he’s still named among Transavanguardians. His Untitled Self Portrait contains all of the typical aspects of Neo-Expressionism (Kordic, 2015) with a vivid red across the print and its highly personal emotional tone.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled”, 1982. Sold for $110.5 Million at the Contemporary Art Evening Auction, May, 2017

USA, Bad Painting

The term can be traced back to Schnabel’s paintings on velvet, reminding the paintings sold out of the back-trunk of vans parked in parks at the time. Schnabel also challenged the lines of good and bad art with his use of appropriation (Britannica, 2019). Another memorable artist, Eric Fischl’s work was mostly associated with human psychology exploring explicit topics such as adolescent sexuality. This gave an impression of private witnessing to his work (Kordic, 2015). Basquiat‘s work was a whole other story, investigating oppositions like rich and poor, inner and outer experience. He had the rare talent of merging disparate traditions and styles. After his passing at 27, Schnabel directed a biographical movie on him: Basquiat (Rosenberg, 2011).

Julian Schnabel, “Homo Painting”, 1981. Oil paint on velvet, 2950x4170mm. Collection: Tate. Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton, 1996


Neo-expressionism marked the transition from modernism to post-modernism. It was a bridge reaching back to expressionism, inevitably tying it to Conceptual and Minimalist Art and, with a final turn, arriving into post-modernism. The aggressive marketing strategies at the time, which was not only part of the art industry, eventually made galleries and critics suspicious of the authenticity of the artwork (Wolf, 2014); artists were accused of creating art solely for profit. Although the Neo-expressionist market collapsed by the end of the 80s, due to its unstable growth, the artwork holds a special spot at auctions to this day (Kordic, 2015).


Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Neo-Expressionism | art movement. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].Kordic, A., 2021. 10 Masterpieces of Late Neo-expressionism Art Movement | Widewalls. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].Rosenberg, B., 2021. Basquiat Paintings, Bio, Ideas. [online] The Art Story. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].Sotheby’s, 2020. “What is Neo-Expressionism?”. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021] 2021. Neo-Expressionism: Definition, Characteristics, History. [online] Avail-able at: <> [Accessed 29 Janu-ary 2021].Wolf, J., 2021. Neo-Expressionism – Concepts & Styles. [online] The Art Story. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].

Image References

Anselm Kiefer, 1981. Margarethe. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].Enzo Cucchi, 1982. Musica Ebbra. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].Francesco Clemente, 1993. Untitled Self Portrait. Print. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].George Baselitz, 1966. Ein moderner Maler. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan-uary 2021].Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982. Untitled. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].Julian Schnabel, 1981. Homo Painting. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2021].

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