COMMENTARY: 1962 – The Changing of the Avant-Garde

 

Andy Warhol, 1962

“As disturbing as it was, we continued with the Pop generation, which in the meantime has made its own reputation.”

-Sidney Janis, American gallerist, 1896-1989

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

1962 was the end of the Modern Art era. Much like the Salon des Refusés ushered in the Modern Era in 1863, it was another art show that gave evidence of a definitive shift in the culture.

The influences had been gathering for years, before coming together in a definitive event. In this case the tipping point was an art show located in a temporarily rented store front – a pop-up gallery, we would say these days.

The International Exhibition of the New Realists opened on October 31, organized by New York City gallerist Sidney Janis. With this show, the Postmodern era had arrived.

International Exhibition of the New Realists, 1962

We’ve come to call it Pop art, the opening gambit of the generational shift in art and culture the Janis show encapsulated. It featured future superstars Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, Yves Kline, Christo, and many others.

The reigning dominant critic Clement Greenberg’s grip has slipped. His preference for abstraction had dominated the 1950s art world. After the exile of representational art, it was back with a vengeance, but also with a twist.

Pop art was easy to like. On the surface it was bright and playful; instant gratification art. It aspired not to inspire, but to be ironic. The recognizable imagery depicted was coming not directly from life, but was reproduced from the filtered and stylized presentations of industrial mass media: advertising, Hollywood, newspapers, comic books and television. From its inception, The Postmodern era was informed by the illusions, distortions, and manipulations these mediums employed.  Postmodernism is very useful for those who have something to hide.

But back in 1962, it was a scary Halloween for Janis’s existing stable of abstract expressionist studs. Some of the biggest names in Modern painting quit his gallery after the audacious show. Departing artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Adolph Gottlieb had struggled for decades in obscurity before the agendas inflicted on the art world turned in their favor. For a brief time, they were the pinnacle. But in the early 1960s a new set of ideas was rising.

The art on display in The New Realists show was not just another variation on Modernist priorities, another facet of Modernism’s typical fragmentation. The new way was basically a repudiation of everything the aging Modernists thought they stood for.

I select this Janis show as the Postmodern starting point because of its consequences. The changing of the guard was plain for all to see in the tempest in a teapot scale of the art world. The Action painters were driven to take action, but it was already too late.

Displaced: Philip Guston, Jimmy Ernst, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko

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ART QUOTES: What is an Artist?

Bearden Dream of Exile

Romare Bearden “Dream of Exile”

If you’re any kind of artist, you make a miraculous journey, and you come back and make some statements in shapes and colors of where you were.

-Romare Bearden

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Burroughsgunshot

William S. Burroughs with his shotgun art

Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.

-William S. Burroughs

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Guston Sun

Philip Guston

We are image-makers and image-ridden… We work until we vanish.

-Philip Guston

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4x5 transparency

George Bellows “Cliff Dwellers”

The artist is the person who makes life more interesting or beautiful, more understandable or mysterious, or probably, in the best sense, more wonderful.

-George Bellows

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Steinberg

Saul Steinberg

The artist is an educator of artists of the future…

-Saul Steinberg

ART QUOTES: Visionary Experience

perseus

Max Beckmann “Perseus”

“All important things in art have always originated from the deepest feeling about the mystery of Being.”

-Max Beckmann

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Jung

Carl Jung “Solar Barge”

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens.”

–Carl Jung

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Thomson

From “Crazy Over You” Charles Thomson
“The artist to a certain extent is a seer or a visionary.”
-Charles Thomson
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chateaunoir1904bypaulcezanne
Paul Cezanne “Chateau Noir”
“What I am trying to translate to you is more mysterious; it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the implacable source of sensations.”
-Paul Cezanne
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guston7Philip Guston “Painters Forms”

“There comes a point when the paint doesn’t feel like paint. I don’t know why. Some mysterious thing happens.”
-Philip Guston
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William_Blake_003
William Blake “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun”
“The man who never in his mind and thoughts travel’d to heaven is no artist.”
-William Blake  

 

ARTICLE: Philip Guston’s Line

East Side 1980 by Philip Guston 1913-1980
Philip Guston “East Side”
A thoughtful take on painter Philip Guston as a draftsman in paint. Key quote from the article: “It was during this period that Guston also got rid of everything but the line in his drawings. Rendering, modeling, shading and all the other methods that we associate with traditional drawing — things that Guston could do well — were no longer called upon.”
Late period Philip Guston works are probably my favorite paintings of all. He won a hard victory, the return to personal vision after decades of conforming to the dogma of his age. To do so he returned to his first love and artistic activity, drawing. Guston described how as a boy he hid away for hours in a closet making pictures. When he reached a midlife crisis, when his abstract paintings had turned to ugly mud, he reached back to what captivated him in the first place, but found a way to use it with mature power and perspective.
Philip Guston is the proto-Remodernist. After a life spent as part of the establishment, he rejected the narrow minded, insular ideology of the art world and brought narrative, history, confession and excitement back into painting. He used everything which came before with abandon and created an integrated art uniquely his own.