Making Flippy Floppy: Peter Halley's Postmodernist Abstraction (1980-1987)

PhD at The University of Edinburgh


Having completed studies at Yale and The University of New Orleans, in 1980 Peter Halley returned to his hometown in New York City, took a studio in the East Village, and began to paint. Within six years he would become one of the most talked about artists in America.

In this PhD thesis I argue that Halley’s paintings of the 1980s constructed new chains of meaning between past abstract art—in particular, though not exclusively, forms of American minimalist abstract painting and sculpture from the 1950s and 1960s—and a range of social forms and urban textures particular to New York City.

By imparting a newly imagined social function to tropes of past abstraction, Halley’s paintings offer a model for a revised understanding of the historicity and criticality of postmodernist art. Pushing back against arguments about 1980s postmodernism as historical amnesia (Fredric Jameson), or market-complicit conventionalism (Hal Foster), I read Halley’s ‘Neo-geo’ as one example of how strategies such as pastiche and double-coding—identified by many critics as central tenets of the postmodernist art that emerged in New York in the 1980s—functioned as vehicles for historical orientation during a decade otherwise marked by disorientating economic, social, and cultural change.


Dr. Kamini Vellodi

Dr. Tamara Trodd