The postmodern became a key concept in the 1980s, a time when grand narratives were abandoned – Christianity, Marxism, and nationalism. In the absence of collective frames of reference to provide legitimising anchorage society was, according to the philosopher Baudrillard, perceived as a ceaseless stream of signs. He used the term hyperreality to describe this fluid, mediacreated reality.
Painting’s reply to the overabundance of media input was to raise the stakes. De Unge Vilde (the Young Wilds) became the designation used for a new generation of artists who threw themselves at the art of painting with a voracious hunger for images. Their reaction was partly a response to the media’s massive bombardment and partly a response to market demand. Figuration returned in a parodied, stylised version that incorporated a wealth of references, yet was disconnected from narratives that might make such references intelligible and meaningful.
The paintings were executed in an expressive manner that did not communicate subjective emotion; rather, it was staged as a distanced and ironic sign.
As a counterpoint to the fast, fierce painting sculptors worked with enigmatic and complex sculptures whose statements involved a cool and philosophically well founded tension between figuration and the sculptural mass.
The re-emergence of painting and sculpture was formulated in a partial rebellion against the minimalist and conceptual tendencies in art, although these tendencies were also crucial in prompting a reinvention of traditional forms.
One of the leading figures of this time of transition was the German painter Gerhard Richter.
Since the early 1970s Richter explored images and their problematic relationship with reality. His late, sophisticated variations on the theme include photographs of paintings after photographs – such as the two versions of ORCHID – or photographic close-ups of experimental mixtures of varnish, oil paints, and water named after tragic characters from Shakespeare’s HAMLET.