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Part 5: The Sixties to the Present

  • Page ID
    • Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts
    • Washington University in St. Louis, University of Rochester, Stanford University and Harvard University
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    AFTER 1960, as the Cold War wore on and the United States negotiated its new role as a global superpower, American society entered a period of cultural destabilization and divisive internal conflict. The antiwar movement, the Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement, and the environmental movement unraveled the consensus culture of the 1950s. The transition from an industrial to a post-industrial economy undermined economic hierarchies while displacing entire categories of labor. The pervasive reach of television and other mass media overturned traditional divisions between public and private space. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in 1989, America entered a complex new era of multilateral geopolitics characterized by economic globalization and rapidly shifting foreign policy strategies. The scope and impact of these upheavals were not unprecedented in American history. But the active role of the arts in addressing them was indeed something new.

    In the late twentieth century, art no longer simply represented the world but attempted instead to intervene in it. While Asher B. Durand had painted images of the American landscape, (see fig. 8.21), Robert Smithson confronted the landscape directly with bulldozers and dump trucks (see fig. 18.30). While Lilly Martin Spencer's paintings had commented on the position of women in the home (see fig. 6.1), a group of students in a Feminist Art Program in 1970 "commented" with hammers and wrenches, physically altering an existing building (see fig. 18.34). While Reginald Marsh pictured the city of New York as dazzled by spectacle and bombarded by advertising signage (see fig. 14.28), Jenny Holzer entered that urban space directly, flashing her own powerful messages from the largest advertising lightboard in Times Square (see fig. 19.5).

    Projects like these signaled a historic collapse in the traditional distinctions between the "fine" and "applied" arts, the arts of contemplation and the arts of instrumental production. In the years after 1960, "fine art" became nearly inseparable from architecture, fashion, furniture, landscaping, advertising, genetic engineering, or product design. Collapsed as well were distinctions between the various traditional media-painting, sculpture, theater, etcetera-that up until this time had remained largely segregated in independent academic bastions.

    The New York artist Do-Ho-Suh's Seoul Home / L.A. Home / New York Home / Baltimore Home / London Home/ Seattle Home (1999-2002) on the opposite page exemplifies this new model of active, multimedia arts. A meticulously sewn, translucent silk replica of Suh's childhood home in Korea, the work is part sculpture, part architecture, part textile, part installation, and part performance. It is also part ''.American" and part international; as it travels throughout the world, it creates transnational encounters by triggering complex intersections of space and memory in every city visited. The title records the itinerary of its exhibition in each of the cities mentioned, marking its leaps across oceans and national boundaries. In doing so, Suh's Home explicitly engages the increasingly global context in which the arts in America are now produced and perceived. And it reminds us of the global networks that have always shaped American art. As we have seen throughout this book, the American "homeland" is a shifting and overlapping terrain.

    Thumbnail: DO-HO SUH, SeoulHome/L.A. Home/ New York Home/ Baltimore Home/London Home/Seattle Home (detail), 1999-2002. Silk, 12 ft 5 in x 20 ft x 20 ft (3.78 x 6 X 6 m).

    This page titled Part 5: The Sixties to the Present is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts.

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