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Thursday, 4 February, 1999, 14:42 GMT
Neurotic realism: Come again?

Art appreciation is a brain-taxing business, now more than ever.

And just when you think you've got the whole thing licked, along comes another befuddling trend to contend with.

The latest conundrum to muddy the waters is "Neurotic Realism", currently showing at the Saatchi Gallery in north London. Yes, you heard it right the first time. Neurotic Realism.

Almost by their very nature, art movements have existed to baffle and perplex the wider public. Driven by cliques, fostered by fabulously wealthy recluses and killed off the moment they become mainstream, it is "art for art's sake".

Stand up those who can succinctly define Situationism, (Neo-) Dadaism, Constructivism or Orphism.

No takers?

For those planning to "take in" an exhibition or two, or "mix it" with the arty crowd in the coming months, BBC News Online provides a one-stop guide to the movements of the moment, complete with a line to get you through the artiest dinner party.

Neurotic Realism - The label was coined by former advertising supremo cum art patron Charles Saatchi and touted as the next wave in British contemporary art. So pay attention.

The current show, which ends on April 4, follows the publication of the book, New Neurotic Realism, at the end of last year. The "NewNus" are a broad church, although generally the trend has been hailed as a return to traditional materials, i.e. paint.

Among its protégés are Cecily Brown, whose work includes Puce Moment, described by Art Net magazine as "an aggressive explosion of sex organs"; Paul Smith, whose staged photos depict lads getting drunk; and David Falconer, whose Vermin Death Stack is a 10-ft tall pile of dead mice, made of painted cast resin.

Critics have struggled to make sense of the name. The New Statesman said: "To call them all 'neurotic realists' is convenience categorisation that relies on oblique and misleading generalisations." It does sound good though.

Dinner party line: "Paint - it's back".

Modernism - Perhaps more self-explanatory, Modernism is currently enjoying a retrospective at London's Design Museum.

Modernism is no longer modern - its heyday in Britain was in the 1930s. The term was used to encapsulate the new thinking in art and design characterised by the growing industrialisation of the time.

The movement manifested itself not just in fine art and the sculpture of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, but architecture, advertising, textiles, graphics and attitudes to life.

The idea has been resurrected recently as a political doctrine under Tony Blair.

Dinner party line: "It so post-modern to be modern."

Outsider Art - Not so much a movement as a general term for reclusive artists who preciously keep their creations behind closed doors. Jarvis Cocker, lead singer of the pop group Pulp, is set to reawaken interest in the subject with a series of programmes he has made for Channel 4.

If you haven't heard of its noted protagonists, such as Madge Gill, Joel Negri, Nek Chad, then they're doing their job well.

Dinner party line: "Outsider art? Never heard of it."

Minimalism - What started as an art trend in the US in the 1960s and 70s has mutated into a way of life for millions. Perhaps the finest example of life imitating art, minimalist influence can be seen in shops up and down the high street, from Ikea to Oxfam.

Minimalist art is pared down to its bare essentials, free of surface decoration or expressive gesture. It is monochromatic and often based on mathematically derived grids.

Dinner party line: "The less said the better".

Abstract Expressionism - Back by popular demand next month, courtesy of a major Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Tate Gallery.

Gained currency during the 1920s as a description of Wassily Kandinsky's abstract paintings, Abstract Expressionism's had to wait another 20 years for full recognition. In the 1940s it was popularly deployed to describe the intensely coloured landscape-like work of Mark Rothko and the splatter technique of Pollock.

Dinner party line: "It's more about attitude than style."
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