From the very beginning of his career, Peter Halley has responded to the complexity and scale of urban structures unique to his native New York as well as diagramming the city’s systems of movement and communication in his paintings, drawings, and Kodaliths. Employing a hermetic language of geometric abstraction borrowed from the works of Kazimir Malevich, Josef Albers, and Barnett Newman, Halley transformed their utopian modernist impulse into an expression of isolation and confinement.
He developed a simple vocabulary of architectural iconography that he labelled ’prisons’ and ’cells,’ which are linked to each other with straight lines labelled ’conduits.’ Through this vocabulary, he sought to express the regimentation of the spaces we inhabit and how they are formed by forces beyond our control. In 1981, he started to use fluorescent DayGlo paint, the eerie glow of which mimicked the light of the recently introduced LED screen, and Roll-a-Tex, a powdered paint additive used to create the “popcorn” textured interior wall treatments that were ubiquitous in newly built suburban condos of the time. Halley’s formal experimentation throughout the 80’s was driven by the tension between his use of purist geometric form and his embrace of these commercial materials.
Halley came to prominence as an artist in the mid-1980s, as part of the generation of Neo-Conceptualist artists that first exhibited in New York’s East Village, including Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Mayier Vaisman and Ashley Bickerton. These artists became identified on a wider scale with the labels “Neo-Geo” and “Neo-Conceptualism.” Neo-conceptualists used irony and pastiche to subvert and comment upon structural issues of the time; they drew from previous generations of conceptual artists to create paintings and sculptures that operated as a set of pictorial signs and moments in post-war art history.
Alongside the development of his visual language, in 1981, Halley also began to write essays on art and culture. A collection of his essays, Peter Halley: Collected Essays 1981-1987 was published by Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in 1988. Four of these essays are reprinted in this catalogue. The earliest, “Notes on the Paintings” (1982), decodes the formal language of his own early work, while his seminal essay, “The Crisis in Geometry” (1984), examines the work of such artists such as Alice Aycock, Robert Morris, Jeff Koons, and Sherrie Levine through the contrasting ideas of Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard. The two later essays, “The Deployment of the Geometric” (1986) and “Notes on Abstraction” (1987), describe a world transformed into a site of alienation through the growing power of simulation.