Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit, JoAnn Bernofsky, Gene Bernofsky, and Charles DeJulio, “The Ultimate Painting” (1966, in front of the Theatre Dome, Drop City – Trinidad, CO)
If naivete and idealism eventually gave way to cynicism and reaction, temporarily falling those utopian dreams, the desire for the unachievable never dies. It provides something to brainstorm about, something to long for, something to work for something that cannot yet be put behind us. -Lucy Lippard (Foreword)
Never before have I been gripped by an indescribable desire to go back in time and visit the ’60s (and early to mid-70s, for that matter). Actually, I rarely ever think to myself, “How cool would it be to go back to the (insert memorable time period)?” Why? Because I love living in 2012: the environment hasn’t quite gone totally to hell yet; major advancements have been made in medicine; and substantial progress has been made for women, the LGBT community, civil rights, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of work to be done in these latter areas, but seriously, look at history. We’re doing a hell of a lot better now than we were for centuries. But this exhibition brings back the spirit of the ’60s that I always idealized in my head.
West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977 is yet another exhibition that I missed, and my excuse is the worst yet: I didn’t know it was happening. It was at MCA Denver from November 11, 2011 to February 19, 2012. And I have another embarrassing confession: I’ve never been to MCA Denver. Admittedly, I’m much more of a modern art person than a contemporary person anyway– ironic, considering how much I like living in the here and now, not to mention that I see an enormous amount of contemporary work at my job– but as has been previously alluded, I really, REALLY need to work on my game. Luckily, one of the reviews of the exhibition I read said that the catalog was much more informative than the exhibition, and the exhibition itself was more of a “cultural documentary.”
Moving past my personal musings about time travel and inadequate museum-going, West of Center was a fascinating first attempt at a wide-ranging (but not comprehensive) look at the counterculture born out of the 1960s. The flower-toting, LSD-imbibing, commune-living hippy is the most prominent figure that comes to mind when discussing counterculture, and while counterculture was made up of hippies, one has to be careful to not reduce it to a stereotype. Counterculture, when properly used, is a term used to define a sect of society that “radically disaffiliated” itself from mainstream culture. According to historian Theodore Roszak, counterculture is characterized as “both cultural and political, organized around a ‘personalist style’ and directed toward liberation from the alienating forces of technocratic domination, highlighted… as a form of cultural radicalism wherein personal transformation was embraced as the key to revolution” (xx). It is different from subculture in that subculture is generally ambivalent to dominant society, making it a subset of mainstream culture. Counterculture sought to instigate social and political change through cultural radicalism. Art was a way of life, ideals were highly utopian, psychedelia was widely embraced, and hierarchy amongst the community (and between genres) disappeared. The true counterculturalist movement did not last long, and has unfortunately been widely disregarded as a legitimate movement worthy of serious scholarship, but it had a lasting impact on contemporary art and scholarship. Continue reading