Excessivism is a contemporary art movement that aims to critique the culture of excessive consumption promoted by capitalism. Excessivists, such as Kaloust Guedel and Danh Vo, reflect our culture of consumption by using excessive amounts of materials to create their work.
Beginning in the 1950s, Excessivist tendencies appeared in the works of a number of European painters including Frank Auerbach and Bram Bogart. Auerbach’s desire to perfect his work caused him to scrape all of the paint from his canvas at the end of each studio session before starting anew the next day. This process can be seen as Excessivist because of the extreme nature of how Auerbach started over and his resultingly excessive use of materials. Bogart is also a forerunner of Excessivism because he used countless layers of paint to create thick slabs of colour. This technique can still be seen in Excessivist work today.
The notion of Excessivism was introduced to the Los Angeles art scene in 2014 when art critic Mat Gleason curated a solo exhibition titled “Excess: The New Norm” at the Red Pipe gallery. Excessivism became a recognized movement in 2015 when artist Kaloust Guedel published the Excessivist Manifesto in Los Angeles Downtown News Weekly. In the manifesto, Guedel writes that “society is positioned to function as a reliable producer of excess, which serves as the lubricant of the capitalist engine.” Therefore, the movement is meant to serve as a reflection and critique of the excessive consumption that happens in a capitalist society.
2015 was also the year of Excessivism’s inaugural exhibition, which took place in the LA Artcore Brewery Annex gallery. The Excessivist Initiative, curated by Kaloust Guedel, featured twenty artists that demonstrated Excessivist tendencies, including Brett Baker, Danh Vo, and Zadik Zadikian. That same year, the Huffington Post published an article by art historian Shana Nys Dambrot acknowledging the movement and how it “reflects the capitalist system where excess is constantly encouraged.”
Since 2015, Excessivism has also been expressed in music and fashion. In 2017, Ji Won Choi released her Excessivism collection, and in 2019, British composer Larry Goves gave a concert in London about musical excess.
In the visual arts, Excessivism can be characterized most broadly by an excessive use of materials. Depending on the work and on the artist, this can mean using excessive amounts of gold, using materials in ways they are not usually used, having elements that stretch beyond the limits of the canvas, using excessive amounts of paint to sculpt in three dimensions, and/or creating works on a massive scale.