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
, and others who enchanted critic Clement Greenberg, such as
—artists who the esteemed critic thought of as carrying the torch of art history into the modern era.
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
remains vivacious and compelling—even the rather cold lines of minimalism fit in with the caloric punch of Pop and the screaming silence and chaos of Fluxus. Just who were the artists to shift art onto its contemporary stage? Below, we walk through the most iconic moments of the 1960s.