THE SPIRIT AND REVIVAL OF THE 1960S IN FINE ARTS

Ak. mal. Martin Zbojan, PhD /SK/ - Prešov University

          Artistic production in the 1950s and 1960s of 20th century is considered to be the most progressive period in art history, in which a variety of techniques and tendencies was united. This art has become the subject matter of criticism and contradictory opinions often senseless to reality. It is known that the closer a critique lives to a particular period, which is the subject matter of his interest, the less objective is his/her interpretation which becomes personal and biased. After some time passed, the interpretation can change into more objective view, it is more documentary and impartial. Things in the past perceived as a remarkable transition are today seen as natural development or as a part of art history chronology. Important is the arrangement of the system. As a result of changes in society, The Second World War caused a turnover in the environment of artistic life. Artists´ attention went to their own self-determination without consideration of lower links and connexity. Existentialism became important. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Albert Camus (1913-1960) became intellectual heroes of that period. The major theme of existentialism was the issue of the purpose of being man. 

Till the end of 1950s, existentialism implanted itself as a philosophical approach. In 1959 a lot of artists – existentialists from Europe – met with their American contemporaries such as an abstract expressionist Wilem de Koonig (1904-1997). They met at the exhibition called New Images of Man set up by Peter Selz in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Existentialism was in this period intellectual framework for the interpretation of fine art. However, at the beginning of 1960s, the alienation and individualism evolved into egocentrism of the new generation of neo-dadaists and pop-artists. This generation doubted the existential view on world and art.[1] Not the style, but the mood and the idea were giving existential arts the atmosphere. This characteristic can be seen in the works of non-figurative artists from abstract expressionists, informel, group CoBra to extraordinary figurative artists such as Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) and Francis Bacon (1909-1992).  

The period from 1960 encompassed the final phase of modernism, so called late modernism, and also encompassed the period after modernism – post-modernism.[2] If we look at the development of art after 2000, the post-modernism seems to be a closed chapter. Today only a few artists consider their work to be post-modern as this term is substituted by contemporary art, which is topical art going off so-called mainstream.

Pop-art was the first important artistic movement that came after abstract expressionism. When it came to existence, it seemed that the movement meant another step in its development. The way its supporters identified with consuming society was by critics considered to be intellectual betrayal. Abstract expressionism was perceived as art evolving from the spirit of individualism – the artist, who would not stop when risk comes to his way. Pop-art, intentionally cheap and empty, impressed as a fist bump.[3]

We could say that Mark Rothko (1903-1970 together with his colleges impersonated a theological-spiritual side of abstract expressionism. Harold Rosenberg, Clyffordo Still (1904-1980), Barnett Newman (1905-1970) Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967), Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1947) attempted to reach a sort of definite symbol. Mark Rhotko expressed his religious opinion many times. He defended his belief by saying that besides everyday reality there was a world away from human consciousness created by God. 

The history of abstract expressionism is closely related to the period of cold war, when USA defined itself as superpower, which should defend the free world. The aim of abstract expressionism supporters was multiple. On one side there was a group of painters action painting who were perceived as an official shield for modern, liberal America; on the other side there were a lot of objectors. At the end of 1950s, a positive reaction to abstract expressionism was in USA considered to be American triumph. The works of the following artists contributed to this fact: Arshil Gorkyh (1904-1948), Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) on Venice Biennale in 1950-1958 and also the exhibition of American painting on Document in Kassel in 1959.[4] This art had in Europe its equivalent art informel, the art without shape also know as : lyric abstraction, tachisme or material painting. This painting approach was represented by: a German Hans Hartunng (1904-1989), the French Jean Dubbufet (1901-1985) and Jean Fautier (1896-1964), a Dutch Jaap Wagemaker (1906-1975), an Italian Alberto Burri (1915-1995), a Catalan Antoni Tàpies (1923), a Swiss Wolfgang Schulze better known as Wols (1913-1951) and others. In Paris in 1951, American painters Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock a Europeans Hans Hartunng, Camille Bryen and Wolfgang Wols met on exhibition Véhémences Confrontées – Oposite powers Nina Dausset´s Gallery.   

The synthesis of automatic handwriting, drip-painting and expressive works of these artists raised reaction in the form of hard-edge-painting, so called painting of hard edges. Large geometric abstract painting with sharp edges was typical for this approach. The approach had its prefiguration in works of Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Josef Albers (1888-1976), who was a teacher in Weimar’s Bauhaus, where he was making his experiments with colour and square.

The term hard-edge-painting was coined by a Californian critic Jules Langesneron who named this way the exhibition of four painters from the west coast in 1959. They were Karl Benjamin (1925), John McLaughlin (1898-1976), Frederick Hammersley(1919-2009), and Lorser Feitelson (1898-1978). The style was later called California hard-edge. The four painters became synonyms of that movement. J. Langsner named the artists Four Abstract Classicists for their visible diversion from the romanticism of abstract expressionism.[5] It was slowly forgotten that art is the matter of spirit. A painted picture became a conventional composition made of fields of colour lines, which did not picture or express anything specific; they only applied in themselves. This direction of painting had been known long before. At the beginning there had been a Russian Vasilij Kandinskij (1866-1944), a rational classic Dutch Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) who was the supporter of neoplasticism.

From rational point of view painting reached zero ground in the form of suprematism in works of a Ukrainian Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). His Black Square in White Background from 1915, which was marked by him as a framed naked icon to serve on one hand as a sign of clear perception in art, and on the other as the most extreme end of art. After Second World War the idea of geometric abstract art was developed by the Swiss Max Bill (1908-1994) and Richard Paul Lohse (1902-1988). In the 1960s the reductive principles were expanded even in the work of some sculptors. Such impulses could be seen in the form of minimalism of Donald Judd (1928-1994), Carl Andre (1935), Frank Stella (1936) and others. Minimalism together with conceptionalism, post-painting abstract painting and pop-art of Victor Vasarely (1908-1997) and Bridget Rileyovej (1931) should have meant the return to a pure aesthetic form with comparison to pop-artistic definition of art.

The paintings of Victor Vasarely were extremely unemotional and impersonal. He called his mathematically calculated works kinetic. This expression did not relate to kinetism but they did to the visual equivalent of movement illusion.[6] Despite this, pop-art was the artistic movement that created its neo-Dadaistic language from the attributes of everydayness, commercials of mass media, civilisation waste, commix and pseudo art. Pop-artists came up with anti-artistic principles of Dadaism at the beginning of 20th century.[7] In more obvious way Pop-art was given attention in 1964, when Robert Rauschemberg (1925-2008) won the first prize at International Biennale in Venice. The work of this artist was rooted in Neo-Dadaism which existed in Europe in the form of its equivalent called new realism. In 1960, Pierr Restany(1930-2003), the curator and the founder of this group, attempted to connect the art with life in the form of emptiness of French Yves Klein (1928-1962) in gallery Iris Clert. Other forms of this connection could be seen in the gathering and destruction of French  Pierre Arman (1928-2005), in auto-destructive sculptures of a Swiss Jean  Tinguely (1925-1991) – the representative of kinetic art – presented in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In that time Jasper Jones and Robert Raushenberg were developing the technique of assemblage and collage. In painting they were combining encaustic painting, oil, and serigraphy. Thus, they introduced the artists standing between action-painting and pop-art.

The term pop was mentioned for the first time in 1958 in the article of an English critic Alloway (1926-1990). Having the background of pop culture, this approach was supported by a group of artists Independent Group that included L. Alloway, architects Alison Smithson (1928-1993), Peter Smithson (1923), Nigel Henderson (1917-1985), Peter Blake (1932), Eduard Paolozzi (1924-2005), and Richard Hamilton (1922). The last mentioned artist conducted small collage named: What makes our homes so different and so sympathetic? This work became an iconic product of pop-art, but today it would not impress much, especially after the rise of feminism which is in contemporary art almost everywhere. Collage had ironic undertone in its relation to upcoming consume culture, which became apparent in mass production of movies, science fiction, and commercials spread by new mass media and coming to Europe. This collage was put together by newspaper clippings from American commercials and it was a part of exhibition This is tomorrow organized by Independent Group in London’s gallery Whitechapel Galley (1956).[8]

According to Michael Archer pop-art in USA arose and was accepted as a movement at the beginning of the 1960s. In 1962 it was identified by rough feeling among such artists as  Roy Lichtestein (1923-1997), Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Claes Oldenburg (1929), Tom Wesselman (1931), and James Rosenquist (1933).[9] That was the way how the public saw the serigraphy of Andy Warhol with Marilyn Monroe motifs, then the enlarged commix windows painted in oil on canvas by Roy Lichtenstein or the sculptures of Oldenburg – the enlarged hamburgers and ice-cream. Pop-art in painting manifested itself in a specific style hard-core-painting, the painting of hard inside, which was represented in the work of Mel Ramos (1935), Wayne Thiebaud (1920), Peter Philips (1939) and others. Their subject matters and models were found in advertisements, shopping windows, company logos and photographies. Their paintings were flat and impersonal, without particular handwriting. Air-brush was commonly used, especially American retouch became popular. The technique of American retouch is typical for photorealism sometimes called hyperrealism, superrealism which was not exactly defined movement, but its beginnings came in 1965 in the form of naturalistic pictures painted by means of detailed copying of a photo. Among the first artists of this movement were Richard Estes (1932), Charles Bell (1935-1995), an Englishman living in USA Malcolm Morley (1931), Robert Cottingham (1935), Chuck Close (1940) and others. New themes derived from low culture of the city were not accepted easily. Pop-art with its artistic methods was recognized as a new kind of American regionalism or social realism. At the beginning of 1970s, this art was full of crime, food and sex, it was perceived as the art of rebellions or progressive art incorporated to the official culture.  In connection to other artistic movements such as conceptualism, after-painting abstraction, op-art, new realism, French new novel, film new wave, a new articulation of art direction was established. 

Pop-art went along well with the activities of international alignment Fluxus. Its founder George Maciunas (1931-1978) was a graphic designer, an American of Lithuanian origin, for whom the alignment was the fusion of cabaret, childish games and M. Duchamp´s work.  G. Maciunas had good relationship to A. Warhol. Fluxus as artistic grouping was conducted by fine artists, but also by musicians such as Nam June Paik (1932), Wolf Wostell (1932-1998), Yoko Ono (1933), George Brecht (1925), John Cage (1912-1992), Ray Johnson (1927-1995), Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) and others. Through their activities these individuals reconsidered their approach to art as the process of creation. R. Johnson was the creator of mail art in 1950s. N. J. Paik, an American of Korean origin, a universal artist and musician founded video-installation that became a fine art discipline. He was using TV screen as a source of visual depiction. In 1960s, J. Cage – a music composer and the supporter of happening – as one of the first ones put together a happening exhibition in 1952 at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. If we look at the artistic action of J. Beuys as one entity, we realise that his artistic work was only at the edge of his interest. His major activity was not to produce art, but to be the artist. This way Joseph Beuys defined the commission of artist. He did it in such a radical way that his work can be considered to be the most radical border in the perception of art in last 30 years. Beuys life was very well known – as a German he was a pilot Luftwafe in 1943, he was shot down in Crimea, and then rescued by Tatar nomads. They kept his alive in a way he was wrapped in fat and felt. These materials later became magic in his artistic work. After war he decided to be an artist. He studied at Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where he was in 1961 nominated to be a professor of monumental sculpture. This status gave his powerful basis, which he used in 1960s and 1970s. As an active participator of Fluxus he was creating new versions of pop-art happenings with new voodooist features included. In 1972-1976 and in 1982 he presented his works in Kassel. Those activities helped him gaining international reputation.[10] J. Beuys implemented into his work the elements of self-mythology, which was later perceived as a negative case without a way out.

We live in a multicultural global environment where the pressure on the look of contemporary art is very strong. Pop-cultural tendencies are remarkable in every single field of art, so it is extremely difficult to search for spiritualism in the view of nowadays art. As it is said, the simpler the art is, the more difficult it is for explanation. It is the commodity that museums are ready to provide anytime.[11] Contemporary art brought the approaches where the presence of author in not necessary within its realisation. The most important is the concept and idea. We speak about sociable and political responsibility of the artist. To embark upon something became the major function of art. There is no development of styles, but it there are antagonistic views about the nature of art. However, it is ironic that artistic movement about which we speak more and more is pop-art. Its likeness to a new facelift is brought to us as the face of contemporary art. Such visual form of world is likely to represent consuming reality which surrounds us in larger magnitude, seemingly without the possibly for compromise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] DEMPSEYOVÁ, A. Umělecké styly, školy a hnutí. Nakladetelství Slovart, 2005, p. 178

[2] MCEVILLEY, T. Contemporary  art Postmodern Transformation of Art. In Encyklopedia of  Aestetics- Volume1. New         York: Oxford university press, 1998, p. 344

[3] Smith, E.L. Artoday současné světové umění. Praha: Slovart, 1996, p. 9

[4] Hessová, B., Grosenicková, U. Abstraktní  expresionismus. Taschen, 2006, p. 42, p. 17, 20

[5] http:www.the art story. org/ movement-hard-edge-painting.

[6] BARNESOVÁ, R. in STURGIS, A. CLAYSON,H. Tajomstvá obrazov provokujúce témy v umeleckých dielach. Bratislava: Slovart, 2005, p.250

 

[7] Štofko, M. Od abstrakcie po živé umenie. Bratislava: Slovart, 2007, p. 217

[8] Dempseyová, E. Umělcké styly a hnutí. Slovart, 2005, p. 217

[9] Archer, M. Art Since 1960, Thames and Hudson, London 1997, p.12

[10] Smith E. L. Artoday současné světové umění , Slovart, 1996, p. 141

[11] Smith E. L. Artoday současné světové umění, Slovart, 1996, p. 10

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