Making matters worse, the provincialism of the late seventies set in at the exact moment when far rangier and less dogmatic approaches were appearing. Painters all over the world were beginning to sidestep New York’s dogma and make paintings that were big, brash, figurative, and narrative. The worm turned in New York as well. Numerous younger painters cast aside the rules and were painting on the streets and in nightclubs; others collaged photographs into paintings; still others retuned to the most forbidden things of all, figuration and narrative. As high as the New York painters took painting, they overcoded the medium, made it about competency and catchy hooks, and limited it.
By the early eighties there was no single direction in painting, and thankfully, there hasn’t been one since. New York finally became just one of many centers, and painting was transformed into a Hydra, coming from all over, rather than a one-eyed Cyclops that lived only on the island of Manhattan. Painting gave up its bunker mentality and came out of its cave. The rest is history as we know it. Thirty years on, New York is now the trading floor, which is creating new problems as art is awash in money, attention, and hype. The art in “High Times” isn’t better than the art being made today. It isn’t purer. But the show is rife with untapped painterly DNA. It is an amazing trip to a time and place when the market had nothing to do with history and art was guided only by artists acting on their own. So much so that some may feel their insurrectionary instincts stirring.