Across the street, Max Protetch countered with a painting show facetiously called "From Here to Eternity: Painting in 1998" that rounded up a number of the usual contemporary suspects, including John Currin, whose tart renditions of women of a certain age have earned him a bad-boy reputation; Lisa Yuskavage, known for her painterly psychosexual dramas; and such "conceptual abstract" painters as David Reed and Jonathan Lasker.
Says Marks, "I think there's a sea change: Painting is attracting younger artists who consider it a viable thing. We wanted to do a big group show to try to give a sense of all the different types of paintings made today. One of the characteristics of nineties painting is that it's cooler. You don't see so much expressionistic work. It's a little bit more neo-Pop."
Adds Hearn, "That postmodern thing, up to the eyeballs in emotion and expression, got enervated of meaning. But out of those ashes, painting kind of grew up again with a real energy. These kids coming out of Yale or the School of Visual Arts are doing something that reinvents painting out of itself."
Some see the current enthusiasm as purely a function of economics. Says Marcia Tucker of the New Museum, "For painters, there is no such thing as a return to painting. What we are really talking about is the marketplace -- what sells and what doesn't. A good market strategy is based on something new and exciting and different, and this year it's painting."
And Wall Street's boom has been an obvious boon to the market for emerging artists. "There are a lot of new collectors who want to participate," says Deitch. "Painting is accessible. You don't need your own private museum to accommodate it."
Among the new collectors is Dean Valentine, the president and CEO of UPN. "Video and installation art have become the last refuge of artistic scoundrels," he says. "Painting is easier to collect. It's more enjoyable. In classic 1960s terms, the new art would be considered reactionary -- reaction against installation art and the overly dry conceptual art of the first five years of the nineties. I guess in my mind, it's a return of the pleasure principle to art. It's okay for people to like the art and want to live with it, and it's okay for the artist to like making it. It's a very heartening development."
But this painting redux is a far cry from the overheated eighties, when neo-expressionism swashbuckled its way into galleries and auction houses, art prices rocketed into the millions, and artists like Julian Schnabel and David Salle became household names.
The new generation of painters are an understated lot whose sensibility has little to do with postmodernism, a word that has itself become passé. If anything, New York's current art scene is not so much a movement as a moment; there is no manifesto. These artists are not making paintings about painting, or appropriating their way into art history. They are simply infatuated with paint.
Take Damian Loeb, a high-school dropout and former assistant to Alexis Rockman who now works out of a studio-loft conveniently located across the street from Pearl Paint. The 28-year-old artist has already been associated with three galleries; he showed at White Columns in the winter of 1996, where Deitch signed him up, and immediately sold out the work the dealer had planned to show the following December. But when Deitch then appeared to get cold feet about exhibiting Loeb's work, in which he boldly borrows from other artists, Loeb lost no time jumping ship; his much-anticipated solo show at Mary Boone opens on January 7.
Loeb lights up a cigarette. His intense green eyes are focused on a large work-in-progress in his studio. He's making a painting from a collage he's constructed of Xeroxed found images, most of them loaded -- a sort of slick-looking hybrid of violent news items and advertising. The painting depicts a black man with a gun in front of a grocery store; pulling away from him in a car are three white kids with a German shepherd, its teeth angrily bared. "I collect images," Loeb explains. "I'm bombarded by MTV and movies and advertising and fashion, and I'm receptive to just about anything."