Re: art in the sixties [2 replies]

Ron Silliman (
Mon, 15 Jan 1996 22:40:17 -0500


You wrote:
>I am interested in exploring the visual arts in the 60's for an
>'Introduction to Art' class. Of all the artists of the 60's, which 5
>6 most exemplified or defined the period in painting, sculpture, etc.

> Please send your responses to :
> Karl Klopmeier
> email:
What the so-called art world responded to changed dramatically over the
decade, so much so that I suspect one would want to subdivide it into

>From the earliest portions, I'd pick Rauschenberg, Warhol and the Op
Art movement personified by Bridget Riley. Looking at Rauschenberg's
giant, multilayered canvases in contrast with Warhol's multiple image
silkscreens, I'm struck with how blatantly political Warhol is. His
images of electric chairs, Bull Connor's dogs attacking civil rights
marchers, Jackie Kennedy, auto wrecks are an in-your-face droll
presentation of the world as transformed through the commodification
process. Rauschenberg by comparison seems quite timid some quarter
century hence. Riley and the op artists take the formalism of abstract
expressionism and yield a trivialized kind of reception theory--they
are to seeing what lava lamps were to sculpture.

I'd also look at the shift in the work of Frank Stella, from the
austere early monochromatic "line" of his gray paintings to the
multicolored, multitextured, 3-D protractor sets gone baroque.

I'd look at the use of materials in the work of Eva Hesse and Robert
Smithson (now we're really moving into the latter part of the decade).
And finally I'd read VERY CLOSELY Lucy Lippard's great book Six Years:
The Dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972. It's still
the most exiting book of art criticism I've ever read.

Ron Silliman


Dear Sixties People:

Karl Klopmeier asked which 5 or 6 visual artists most exemplified or
defined the 60s period in painting and sculpture and why?

As "[pop] artists," I would say Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jaspar
Johns, Marisol, Jim Dine, James Rosenquist, and Larry Rivers.

In sculpture or "Art of Assemblage," Joseph Cornell, Claes Oldenburg,
Louise Nevelson, Edward Segal, Nam June Paik and Edward Kienholz.
Kienholz's *The Portable War Memorial* (1968) is a satiric condemnation of
the average American's indifference to the VN war. In the left corner of
the assemblage, Marines raise a flag reminiscent of Iwo Jima, while a
couple sit at a lunch counter with their backs turned to the Marines. On
the wall in front of the couple is the familiar "Uncle Sam Wants You!"
poster. In *The Eleventh Hour Final, * (1968) a TV screen is filled with
numbers which are, in actuality, body counts from the war. On the table in
front of the TV are all the accouterments of "civility": a coffee table,
ash tray, flowers, *TV Guide,* and something new and unusual, a remote

Although Performance Art, or Happenings, is not a new medium, it was quite
popular during the 60s and 70s as well. Some of the artists included are
John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Allan Kaprow, Meredith Monk, Orlan, Carole
Schneemann, and Joseph Beuys. In Beuys's *Coyote: I like America and
America Likes Me*, he lived with a coyote in a closed museum space for
about a week. Beuys stayed inside of a felt tent and tried to interact
with the coyote. Felt is very significant for him: during World War Two
when he was a German pilot, he crashed somewhere in Siberia. The shamanic
people living there wrapped him in fat and felt and saved his life. Ever
since then, felt and fat were incorporated into most of his art works.
During the early 70s, Beuys was fired from the D=FCsseldorf Academy for
inciting his students to revolt. Norman Conquest, a post-dada artist, is
the founding member of Beuyscouts of Amerika, whose art works are known for
their sharp political wit.

Warhol and Lichtenstein especially seem to be experimenting with ideas put
forth by Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction." Benjamin's essay analyzes (if I remember
correctly) how technological advances in art (cinema, photography, posters)
ultimately challenge "authenticity." In an age of reproduction, art does
not need to be confined within the museums but can be reproduced countless
times and displayed anywhere for everyone. Paradoxically, Warhol explored
the idea of reproduction by creating images that were at once banal and
demotic (Campbell's soup cans). Lichtenstein created enormous cartoons
with all the serious silliness of teen love, and Oldenburg took a familiar
item like a toothbrush and created a huge soft sculpture out of it. An
enormous toothbrush defamiliarizes the familiar object, forcing us to see
it in an entirely new way.

Some books on Art and the 60s:
*Icons and Images of the Sixties* Nicolas and Elena Calas, Dutton.
*Conceptual Art* Ursula Meyer, Dutton.
*A Different War: Vietnam in Art* Lucy Lippard, Real Comet Press.
*The Arts of David Levine* Knopf. In one of Levine's *NY Review of Books'*
caricatures from the 60s, President Johnson pulls up his shirt to show
journalists his appendix scar. Instead of a scar, though, he points to a
map of Vietnam which is carved on his stomach.

There are many books on Pop Art, but I don't have that information here.