Nothing is more remarkable about the art of the last quarter-century than the diminished role played by abstraction in defining the course of contemporary artistic thought. Where abstraction had not so long before been the mark of an “advanced” aesthetic sensibility, it was now increasingly said by critics, curators, and artists of many different persuasions to represent a conservative or academic or even reactionary attitude toward art and culture. Abstraction, which for decades had loomed as a vehicle of aesthetic emancipation, was now declared to be too idealistic, too formalistic, too metaphysical, too elitist, or too political—or else, in some cases, not political enough—to be accorded the high place that had formerly been ceded to it in the hierarchy of cultural achievements. Where in the past it had been denounced by reactionary politicians as part of the Bolshevik menace, abstraction was now dismissed by left-wing academics and...


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