From the very beginning of his art career, Halley respond to the complexity and scale of the city’s urban structure, 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 labeled ’prisons’ and ’cells,’ linked with straight lines labeled ’conduits.’ Through this vocabulary, he sought to express the regimentation of the spaces we inhabit, how they are formed by forces beyond our control. In 1981 he started to use fluorescent Day Glo 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 modern times. Halley’s formal experimentation throughout the decade was driven by the tension between his use of purist geometric form and his embrace of these commercial materials.
He 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 Conceptual Art to create paintings and sculptures that operated as a set of pictorial signs referencing artists and moments in postwar 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 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.
In 1996, Halley and Bob Nickas, a curator and writer, co-founded Index, a magazine inspired by Andy Warhol’s Interview that featured interviews with people in various creative fields.
In the 1990s, Halley started to produce site-specific installations for museums, galleries, and public spaces that would interact with the surrounding architecture. His installations mix imagery and media such as painting, fiberglass relief sculpture, wall-size flowcharts, and digitally generated wallpaper.
Halley’s philosophy becomes the basis for the Neo-conceptualism (Neo-Geo) movement. His works are a critical analysis of the mechanization and commercialization of the modern world. Seeing the metaphor of our society, Halley makes descriptions of social landscape, human isolation and connectivity in his works. Simple diagram structures in his paintings become a means of dramatizing political and social life.
Halley also served as the Director of Graduate Studies in Painting and Printmaking at the Yale University School of Art from 2002 to 2011.
Halley’s works were included in the Sao Paolo Biennale, the Whitney Biennale and the 54th Venice Biennale and represented in such museums and art institutions as the Musee d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Des Moines Art Center, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, the Museum Folkwang, Essen, and the Butler Institute of American Art., Museum of Modern Art in St. Etienne, Museum of Art in Santa Barbara (California, USA), SCHIRN Kunsthalle (Frankfurt), Guggenheim Museum (New York).