Meta-modernism is an art world neologism claiming to define a style/philosophy/epoch that’s neither Modern nor Postmodern. Its creators/definers (Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker) consider Plato’s metaxy as its roots. However me-taxy is parallel to para-taxy (as well as a bazillion other -taxes), so wouldn’t the new word be me-modernism? Me-modernism has a nice ring to it, but as both modern and postmodern art has been about the artists’ “me” calling the chronologically post-postmodern epoch uniquely me-modernist seems wrong.

And doesn’t the Greek “meta” mean pretty much the same as “post” means in Latin? Not so much anymore. For us 21th century Anglophones, what words meant long ago matters less than what ordinary thinking folk feel they do today. Meta, here and now, means more abstract, and or profound, and post simply means after. Is meta-modern art more profound than post-modern art? I hope so.

Be that the case or not, the word is out there and I will use it as the neologists do: as an approach to aesthetic judgement based on not the oppositions of modernism v. postmodernism but their simultaneity. They describe it as “a pendulum swinging between…innumerable poles,” more like innumerable polemics, I say. In simpler terms: MeMo is of sincere irony, (ironic sincerity?) or knowing naiveté; its objects are each unified pastiches of the borrowed and the original, created and assembled by both will and accident.

So, move over all you PoMo opportunist entrepreneurs, you bullies in the art market/playground, make way for the return of the art-as-therapy crowd, those newly “paroled” Modernist expressionists and romantics who believe, right or wrongly, that they have something to “say” not just to sell. Meta-modernism hopes to simulcast the commodified spectacles of the former with the subjective sublimations of the latter. Good luck with that.


The drawing is meant to re-present the coexisting triad of modernism, postmodernism and meta-modernism. Start in the back and you see the modernist über-noir silhouette of the femme fatale against the bright light of a mid-20th century metropolis; move to the middle and you have a post-modernist objet trouve (remastered for wealth and fame for the fin de siècle redux) as a literally deconstructed pop art sign.

Enclosing those modernist and post-modernist frames is a third frame, it’s the meta-modernist (both and neither modernism and/or postmodernism) part of the image. Its window, like an art frame, encloses the modernist and PoMo scenes, declaring them art, here defined as a subset of re-presentations of something fundamentally “real” (mimesis or metaphor, your call) and at the same time, it is also part of a wall and that puts the Modernist and the PoMo outside, in the real, not represented, world as opposed to cross-hatchy “artiness” of the foreground interior.


So let me, in a meta-modern gesture, add to the ironic well-wishing a couple of paragraphs back sincere good luck wishes for art to survive the breakup of its affair with late capitalism, assuaged by, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” But this quote up a couple of lines in Tennyson poem In Memoriam is more to the point, concerning hooking up with the one percenters “I envy not the beast that takes / His license in the field of time, / Unfetter’d by the sense of crime, / To whom a conscience never wakes”