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The Mod Squad

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"I don't want you to see the brushstroke," he insists. "I try to freeze the gestures, creating a tension between what is mechanical and intuitive -- almost a mechanical-stenciling technique. I think of my work as sort of a misinterpretation of Cubism filtered through Pop Art." The New Orleans?born Gonzales, who had a joint show in October at Mary Boone and at Tate, rents a studio in the Chelsea Arts Building at 526 West 26th Street, a beehive of artistic activity, bustling with ten floors of artists and galleries -- a milieu reminiscent of SoHo in its heyday.

The hyperinflated eighties still cast a long shadow over the burgeoning scene. Nobody has forgotten the over-the-top art market that ultimately spun out of control. But for the painters of the moment, the last generation provides, in its own way, a kind of inspiration. Brown, for one, is grateful that she and her peers have been liberated from a certain didacticism: "We're very lucky. They got it out of the way for us. For them, painting was pronounced so dead it was an endgame. We're taking a break from the need to always react to art that came before us. We're not commenting on Salle or Schnabel or Fischl. We've skipped a generation. It's sort of a free-for-all, an expression of lust for life. And not caring about being corny, actually liking corniness. That's the biggest freedom, knowing that corny can be good."

"I couldn't be doing what I'm doing if the eighties hadn't happened," adds the 30-year-old Lisa Ruyter, whose new show of paintings opens in March at Pat Hearn. "It sort of brought together what was going on in the decade before -- a mixture of pop sensibility and minimalism. This whole pop-abstraction has been handed down to us to deal with and sort out."

But even the biggest boosters of the new scene warn about escalating the hype. "We're on the cusp of something, but it's not a repeat of the eighties," says MOMA's Robert Storr. "People are expecting a wild-and-woolly scene. That's not going to happen. It's about the ambition of the work, not about the market phenomenon. The one thing that's really different is that nobody I know thinks they know where history is going. There's a general acceptance that art history does not have a direction you can predict. The work is very interesting," he says carefully. "But I have to keep asking myself: Is it important?"

"This is obviously a very good time for painting, a very important time," adds Massimo Audiello. "But the minute you say painting is back, you kill the goose. That's the way the art world works." His voice drops to a whisper. "The minute you proclaim painting is back, it's over."


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