Figuration Is the Art of Our Era for a Simple Reason: Because Artists Are Painting ‘What They Love’

Taylor Dafoe , Artnet News , April 14, 2022

In art history, some decades are defined by a singlular style. In the ‘50s, it was Abstract Expressionism; the 60s, Minimalism; the 70s, Conceptualism. Now? 


“When we look back at this period of the 2010s, we’ll see that this was a moment of figuration,” Ruth Erickson, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) curator behind a new exhibition dedicated to eight of the genre’s brightest young exemplars, painters Aubrey Levinthal, Arcmanoro Niles, and Celeste Rapone among them.


On Erickson’s point, it would be hard to disagree. In recent years, artists have reanimated the form with eyes sensitized to art history’s propensity for omitting marginalized communities and recapitulating a colonial gaze. 

They’ve done so with tremendous success, filling galleries and museums—and auction lots and magazine covers—at dizzying rates. The demand has transformed these artists into merchandisable superstars, and their work into collector-bate—so much so, that discussions about the quality of their output are often discolored with the sickly greenish hue of money.   

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