How the 1960s’ Most Iconic Artists Made Art Contemporary
The 1960s were marked by a wave of radicalism. From the global student protests demanding democracy to the countercultural revolution that swept the world, the decade transformed the social and political landscape, and its effects are still felt today. The ’60s also cemented New York as the epicenter of the West’s (white, male-dominated) avant-garde, even though that road had been paved in the 1950s by
But by the mid-1960s, the perspectives of Greenberg, Pollock, and their ilk began to feel institutionalized and removed from the fringe, which continued to push the formalist concerns of art, in both its practice and its critical impact on society. It must be noted that while arts originating in the East and the Southern hemisphere were often in dialogue with Western trends, the regions’ differing social and political concerns, especially under the Cold War and communism, dominated art production. What was avant-garde in the West now didn’t necessarily rely on a brush and canvas, and instead protested against convention by incorporating popular themes, motifs, and subjects as well as new forms of media into the fine art tradition.
In tandem with strides made in academic thought, art fell under the spell of deconstructionist philosophy, with theoretical redefinitions of authorship (via Michel Foucault), symbols and signs (Jacques Derrida), spectacles (Guy Debord), and ideas of mediation (Marshall McLuhan). But however loaded the conditions in which these new art practices were created, the
Undoubtedly the flashiest point of departure for painting arrived with Pop Art. While it was
By now, Warhol’s exploits with Campbell’s soup cans and Marilyn Monroe are deeply ingrained in the popular imagination, but in 1962—when Warhol began working exclusively in the photographic silkscreen series that he carried on through 1965—the mere idea that something as banal and mundane as a cheaply manufactured food product or a Hollywood starlet could be viewed as art was received as a big middle finger to the history of painting, and to the cultural establishment in general. Here was a mixing of high- and lowbrow cultures, allowing for a “no-brow” mentality to permeate into cultural production.
In addition to introducing new subject matter, Warhol also popularized the practice of
While Pop is seen widely as an American export much like Coca-Cola, in Germany
If Pop was breaking down the social parameters of art production and reception, Minimalism carved out a new space for art’s theoretical, more highbrow ideas to thrive. It’s no secret that the movement, precursored by the gridded paintings of Abstract Expressionist outliers like
Despite never self-identifying as a group, the Minimalists, who included Judd,
With theory taking hold at the core of artmaking, especially at the hands of 1960s critic du jour Michael Fried, “concept” replaced subject. But it was Sol LeWitt’s 1967 “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” that widely circulated the term, which then became a fundamental and enduring art genre. LeWitt,
While he worked with the Minimalists and then Fluxus, LeWitt’s sweeping practice also encapsulates the broad range and encompassing character of Conceptual Art—just take a look at Basic Principles of Drawing (1968), in which LeWitt only drew lines in four directions: vertical, horizontal, and two diagonals. These drawings could seem primitive or mathematical, but ultimately they reconfigure both the symbolism and representation of figures in space, as well as the very essence of what drawing is.
Interestingly, conceptual art was also bolstered by
Beuys soon befriended the Korean-born
This democratic spirit found another advocate in the group of Genoan artists that Germano Celant labeled “Arte Povera” in 1967. The movement, especially spearheaded by the witty