"I believe in advertisement and media completely. My art and my personal life are based in it. The art world would probably be a tremendous reservoir for everybody involved in advertising."
1 of 8
Jeff Koons Signature
"The modernism I grew up with was that it was spiritual, it was about a kind of purity and Emersonian transcendentalism... Feeling less and less comfortable with that, I decided that for me modernism was really about skepticism, doubt, and questioning. Things that we now say are part of a postmodern sensibility."
2 of 8
Peter Halley
"I really believe in humor as a creative engine, going all the way back to the idea of the square becomes a prison."
3 of 8
Peter Halley
"The most important thing is seeing things every day. You see something and then you say, 'Stop. Look.'"
4 of 8
Haim Steinbach
"My work has always had to do with self-referentiality."
5 of 8
Meyer Vaisman
"As you begin to see something clearly, it breaks up. I like to use them as taking the idea of an image to a place where everything gets fractured. The paintings have to do with different states of consciousness, trying to describe that place in our minds where we see and don't see simultaneously."
6 of 8
Ross Bleckner
"I try to make art which celebrates doubt and uncertainty. Which provokes answers but doesn't give them. Which withholds absolute meaning by incorporating parasite meanings. Which suspends meaning while perpetually dispatching you toward interpretation, urging you beyond dogmatism, beyond doctrine, beyond ideology, beyond authority."
7 of 8
Sherrie Levine
"The world is filled to suffocating. Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. We know that a picture is but a space in which a variety of images, none of them original, blend and clash."
8 of 8
Sherrie Levine

Summary of Neo-Geo

Neo-Geo was for a time the "next big thing" in the art world of the late 1980s, a loose group of artists seemingly engaged in a critique of consumerism, commercialization, and the regulation of space through abstract aesthetics. Drawing on lessons learned from earlier forms of modernist artistic practice and influenced by European philosophy, artists deployed abstract forms to critique late 20th century Western civilization. Their work commented on increased levels of social isolation within society, the veneration of consumer goods, and the simulation of experience at the expense of the real. Perhaps ironically though, many of the artists went on to be hugely successful commodities in the art market, leading some critics to suggest that the movement was driven more by marketing and publicity hype than genuine social consciousness.

The movement's name derives from Neo-Geometric Conceptualism, but both critics and artists struggled to agree on a name for the group. "Post-Conceptualism", "Simulationism" and "Post-Abstract Abstraction" were alternatives used by various curators, artists, and writers, but all speak to the idea of an art movement devoted to the repurposing of already existing aesthetic languages to engage (mostly implicitly) with contemporary concerns about consumer culture and wider society.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • Neo-Geo combines the aesthetics of earlier abstract art forms like Pop Art, Op Art and Minimalism with concepts derived from continental philosophy. Most notably this included the work of Jean Baudrillard, whose idea that desires are constructed rather than natural was particularly influential in relation to the critique of consumer culture.
  • Artists also drew heavily on Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum, or the copy of a copy. Referring to the sense that reproductions rule the everyday, from brand logos to mass-produced items, Neo-Geo artists played with notions of authenticity in relation to it by, for example, presenting mass-produced objects as one-of-a-kind art objects. Rather than doing so to shock or trouble the notion of what art is, this was intended to simply reflect the reality already around the audience.
  • This distinguishes Neo-Geo from previous artistic movements. After Dada and Pop, the reproduction of these objects was simply exemplary of their ubiquity, as it was no longer shocking to bourgeois sensibilities to use readymades in artistic practice. In an almost cynical manner, it suggested that both the art world and the real world were now predicated on the reproduction of the same objects, only able to be recombined to create new meaning.
  • Unlike much of the more formally distinct work from the East Village scene of the 1980s (which many Neo-Geo artists had early ties to) these paintings and objects were able to be taken up as commodities by the art market with relative ease and several artists achieved rapid fame. This led to accusations from some critics that the subversive quality of critique implicit in their work had been lost. Several suggested that the masterful publicity campaign attached to the artists reflected an art world too ready to seize new work as the next major movement.

Overview of Neo-Geo

Neo-Geo Image

Jeff Koons, known as "the Warhol of his time", is the best known of the loose collective of artists who invented Neo-Geo. It was his basketballs suspended in a water-filled tank - a work that took scientific precision to produce - that launched his career and the movement.

Key Artists

  • Peter Halley is an abstract artist known for his geometric paintings with the use of intense day-glo colors.
  • Jeff Koons is best known for mirror-finished stainless steel constructions of animals and everyday objects that are playful and can almost be considered kitsch.
  • Levine is an American photographer, appropriation artist, and seminal figure of The Pictures Generation group. The subject of much controversy in the 1980s, Levine is best known for her rephotographs of work by Edward Weston, Vincent van Gogh, and Marcel Duchamp.

Do Not Miss

  • British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
  • Neo-Dada refers to works of art from the 1950s that employ popular imagery and modern materials, often resulting in something absurd. Neo-Dada is both a continuation of the earlier Dada movement and an important precursor to Pop art. Some important Neo-Dada artists include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robert Morris and Allan Kaprow.

Important Art and Artists of Neo-Geo

Red Cell with Conduit (1982)

Artist: Peter Halley

This bright red painting is divided into an upper section by a line of darker color, so thin as to be almost imperceptible, and a lower quarter, divided in half by a horizontal black line. Two black vertical lines, placed symmetrically and framing the center, rise from the horizontal line at 90-degree angles to end sharply at the thin line. Halley wrote, "This space is akin to the simulated space of the videogame, of the microchip, and of the office tower - a space that is not a specific reality but rather a model of the 'cellular space' on which 'cyberneticized social exchange' is based," while noting that it is "executed with a variety of techniques lifted from the Hard-Edge and Color-Field styles... For me, those styles, used as a reference to an idea about abstraction and an ideology of technical advance, replace reference to the real." Its construction demonstrates a clear influence from the color field painting of artists like Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman.

Innovatively the artist used Roll-a-Tex, a material used to texture walls, to create canvases with a tactile texture that as art historian Amy Brandt noted "both seduce and repel viewers with assaults on their senses of sight and touch," and Day-Glo paint, described by art critic Roberta Smith as "powerful fluorescent colors [that] comes from somewhere beyond art." In a move characteristic of Neo-Geo, the artist referenced the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard, by suggesting he aspired to "hyperrealization", saying that each "era becomes a hyperrealization of the preceding era, which in turn is assigned the value of reality." The painting, although simple and formally abstract, is almost painful to look at due to the fluorescent quality of the paint, suggesting a 'hyper' or overcharged version of already established aesthetic strictures.

Halley continues to influence contemporary artists, as art critic Stephen Maine wrote in 2010, "Peter Halley's... cell-and-conduit "sociograms" of the 1980s doused that era's Neo-Expressionism like a cold shower. Critiquing modernism's utopian underpinnings, Halley just said no to liberal humanism, and dutifully staked out the concomitant theoretical territory. Twenty-five years later, his dystopian hybrid of Minimalist landscape and Pop-culture color again commands attention."

The Arrangement of Things (1982-85)

Artist: Ross Bleckner

This painting with a horizontal axis uses fine vertical lines of color, overlaid with small asymmetrically placed stains of vibrant colors that blur and interrupt the strict geometric lines. A contrast is created between the stains, which are soft, almost cloud-like pulses of color, and the defined verticals that might suggest landscape, atmosphere, and/or a shifting relationship between background and foreground. The result is an emphasis upon the referentiality, rather than the purity, of abstraction.

In the early 1980s Bleckner, drawing upon 1960's Op Art, focused on creating stripe paintings, while also fracturing the hard edges of that movement, emphasizing ambiguity in the relationship between the two goals. As he said at the time, "As you begin to see something clearly, it breaks up. I like to use them as taking the idea of an image to a place where everything gets fractured. The paintings have to do with different states of consciousness, trying to describe that place in our minds where we see and don't see simultaneously.'' In looking at the painting, the eye is confused by the Op Art distortion of closely placed lines, whilst also being aware of the more organic layer of abstraction. This might suggest the natural world beneath the geometric impositions of humans, or a sub-concious fighting against the barriers of society.

The influence of Bleckner's 'stripe paintings' as they have been dubbed by art collectors and critics, continues today. At an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston that featured Bleckner's work, the director David Ross said, ''He's one of the most important painters in the emerging generation of American artists. The early stripe paintings really opened the area of geometric abstraction to a thorough reinterpretation by a new generation. A number of artists in this generation, whether they paint like Ross or not, show an incredible respect for Ross as an influence and a force."

Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off) (1985)

Artist: Jeff Koons

This work shows three Spalding basketballs, suspended in a clear rectangular glass tank filled with water and resting on a black steel stand with pneumatic feet that also seems to float in space. The work composes the objects as if they were geometric shapes, reflecting the calm order of the 'golden ratio' in its proportion and number. Two quantities constituted the 'golden ratio' if the ratio between them was the same as the ratio between their sum and the larger of the two. The principle, known also as the 'golden proportion', was an important tenet of Classical art. As a result, here a consumer object is elevated to an ideal classical realm, the 'total equilibrium' of the ironic title, while undercutting that realm with the dash of humor created by the basketballs and aquarium. In another reference to Baudrillard, Halley notes that, "Koons' pieces have the same effect on the viewer that Baudrillard has described the space program as having on the public. Koons, like NASA, has created a universe 'purged of every threat to the senses, in a state of asepsis and weightlessness,' a universe in which we are "fascinated by the maximization of norms and by the mastery of probability".

Koons made this work as part of his series Equilibrium (1985) for his first exhibition at International With Monuments. He made the tanks in three sizes, each holding one, two, or three basketballs and differentiated by the brand of basketball, filling the tanks with distilled water into which a sodium chloride reagent had been mixed so that the balls would float. The series included his Total Equilibrium Tanks, which were completely filled like this one, and the 50/50 Tanks, half-filled so the basketballs bobbed above the waterline. Consulting scientists to find the right formula, the artist said, "I wanted to keep it a very womb-like situation with water. I like the purity of water. So I arrived at an equilibrium which is not permanent but very pure," as after about six months the basketballs sank and needed to be reset.

The pieces were accompanied by a lifeboat and an aqualung cast in bronze, along with Nike advertising posters that showed celebrity basketball players wearing Nike products and holding basketballs. As art critic Angelika Muthesius wrote, "the tanks were an ultimate state of being ... The Nike posters were the Sirens - the great deceivers, saying Go for it! I have achieved it. You can achieve it too! ...What was paralleling this message was that white middle-class kids have been using art the same way that other ethnic groups have been using basketball - for social mobility."

Useful Resources on Neo-Geo

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Neo-Geo Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 12 Apr 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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