Nostalgic Art Remains Relevant
Dayton Art Institute’s current exhibit “Changing Times: Art of the Sixties” aptly reflects that exciting decade, a vibrant time when it seemed that everything was changing amid a surging belief that one’s own actions could actually be catalysts for that change. While the civil rights movement, women’s lib, and the Vietnam War spurred social activism, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix brought about seismic shifts in popular music, and the visual arts vividly reflected the changing times.
One of the first images seen in the DAI exhibit is a colorful print from Robert Indiana’s familiar “LOVE” series, which embodies the spirit of the era, a time when passions were on public display and everything mattered. Another powerful image on view was created by Jasper Johns, a leading figure of the American Pop Art movement whose well-known use of targets is vividly realized in “Target with Four Faces,” a stark rendering in blue, red, and yellow which generates the feeling of that chaotic time.
Andy Warhol famously explored the relationship between art, advertising and celebrity culture, and any retrospective of 60s art would be incomplete without his iconic presence; “Marilyn,” a colorful print of legendary actress Marilyn Monroe and a 1962 painting “Printed 2 Dollar” convey the spirit of his work. Famed Cincinnati native Jim Dine is represented by “Red Felt Boots,” one of his many dramatic renderings of common objects that somehow captures the intense joy of that extraordinary era.
Robert Motherwell’s 1966 “Study in Black and White” starkly represents life, death, and injustice, seemingly appropriate subjects for the painter originally trained in philosophy. Reflections from that memorable time are evoked by Craig Hickman’s photo of a vibrantly alive Robert Kennedy just weeks prior to his assassination in June, 1968 and Marc Riboud’s photograph of a sweet-faced 17-year-old protester courageously holding a flower in front of National Guard troops armed with rifles fixed with bayonets, images picturing the essence of the Viet Nam era.
An untitled Robert Rauschenberg lithograph demonstrating his use of ordinary objects to create random juxtapositions is augmented by this illuminating accompanying statement by fellow artist John Cage: “These are the feelings Rauschenberg gives us: love, wonder, laughter, heroism, fear, sorrow, anger disgust tranquility… Where does beauty begin and where does it end? Where it ends is where the artist begins.” Cage is also represented by a complex work he created in response to the death of avant-garde conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp which expresses the role of chance in life and in art.
Roy Lichtenstein’s “Set of Dinnerware Objects” which the artist described as “three-dimensional objects decorated with two-dimensional symbols of its three-dimensionality” is intended to emphasize mass production and consumerism. Initially received with bewilderment, “26 Gas Stations” has become an icon of Pop and Conceptual art; to create this photographic collage, artist Edward Ruscha drove down Sunset Strip in a pickup truck fitted with an automated camera photographing each building, then piecing the images together into an accordion foldout book stretching 25 feet in length.
An untitled work by Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell who uses nature as the basis for expressing emotions displays thick splashes of mostly green paint amid accompanying splatters and drips to produce a joyous response in the viewer. Irregular rectangular regions of color in green, black, and blue by Color Field pioneer Mark Rothko illustrate the artist’s belief in flat forms which “destroy illusion and reveal truth” in a painting somehow feeling less solemn than much of the artist’s work.
This impressive exhibit is made up of works from the Dayton Art Institute‘s permanent collection, most purchased by then-director Thomas Colt who headed the DAI from 1957 until 1975.