Beyond Postmodernism

Putting a Face on Metamodernism Without the Clichés

bo-bartlettThe American art magazine Art Pulse has just published an interesting article by the art historian Stephen Knudsen on metamodernism and painting, in particular the work of Bo Bartlett. We have posted an excerpt below. You can read the whole article here.

School of the Americas has postmodern reflection on a par with the likes of Eric Fischl, who deftly demonstrated his best with works like The Old Mans Boat and the Old Mans Dog back in 1981. In the Fischl painting, there is an outright surrender of any hope of a modern utopia, and five reclining figures on a boat couldn’t care less about the oncoming dangers of the storm, a force emblematic of a global dystopia.

Bartlett’s figures in School of the Americas deal with the oncoming world threat differently. As young protesters, they also find utopian ideals to be suspect; however, in their repose they are ironically taking action against the threat. They are confronting the inventors of the end of the world: us. Specifically, they are facing down the strongest military in the world-a military mandated to prevent apocalypse, but also one with apocalyptic potential that could explode if not regulated by the people. School of the Americas becomes a reflection of ourselves; we still want to believe in something good, even in a world with utopian enthusiasm put into checkmate.

In School of the Americas, the figures seem just as paralyzed as those in The Old Mans Boat, but ironically, they are just as active in facing a threat as those in The Raft of the Medusa. They do care. There is postmodern angst for sure but not postmodern apathy.

Certainly, School of Americas and metamodernism in general do not mark the return to old-fashioned identity. Rather, metamodernism allows the possiblity of staying sympathetic to the poststructuralist deconstruction of subjectivity and the self-Lyotard’s teasing of everything into intertextual fragments-and yet it still encourages genuine protagonists and creators and the recouping of some of modernism’s virtues.

There are 3 comments

  1. Mikael Homme

    That is an interesting interpretation of Bartlett’s painting. However, I disagree with Knudsen’s ironic analysis that the figures are “just as active in facing a threat.” I view a type of surrender here, not just in their repose but in their faces as well. Yes, three of the figures are facing “something,” but their eyes are closed, which suggests disengagement from the world around them–into a closed inner world (?); I do not see confrontation here. Interesting article, nonetheless.

  2. Luke Turner

    I agree Mikael. I’m not personally convinced Bartlett’s work embodies the metamodern spirit, as his paintings tend to veer (unknowingly, I think) on the side of kitsch, and his pretty young (predominantly white middle-class) subjects appear all too passive and one-dimensional for my tastes — unnervingly so at times. Nonetheless, it’s extremely interesting to read Stephen’s take.

  3. stephen knudsen

    Mikael and Luke,
    Thank you for your interest in the essay . For the full argument please see :

    The figures are die-in protestors . More of that back story is explained in the unabridged essay.
    I use School of Americas ( not Barlett’s full body of work) as a symbol to help explain a facet of the metamodern narrative. You are right, though to imply that other artists more clearly fit in the metamodern framework with the body of their work.
    Thanks again! Very kind of you to take the time to comment.
    Stephen Knudsen

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