Postmodernism continues to hold the theoretical/visual art world in its grip. There has not been any serious challenges to its intellectual, perceptual or aesthetic implications since its inception. There have been many attempts at reactionary critiques and nostalgic returns, but that gets us nowhere. We wind up treading down the same visual pathways, seeing the same old ideas dressed up in contemporary garb. A new century demands new ideas, but unfortunately, the art world continues to experience its endlessly repeating “Ground Hog Day.” It’s time to for us to confront where we went wrong, where we began to circle, where we got lost, in order to find our way to an uncertain future. WE want imagination and adventure in our art, and in order to do that, POMO and what it stands for must go. We will begin our next series with the splintering of Modernism, the exhaustion and repudiation of existentialism and the end of visual reasoning. We will follow the leads all the way to 2008 with POMO suffering an equally ignominious and long overdue demise.
They called it the “Swinging Sixities” – Yeah Baby!
IN 1960 John Kennedy was elected president of the United States. It was a culminating moment and a new beginning for a country that was now the preeminent western power. A perfect storm of world rattling events had finally come to a close. It seemed to begin with the stock market’s Black Monday in October 1929 which caused an economic collapse of immense proportions. The Great Depression lasted over a decade and plunged the world into economic misery. The 1930’s, reeling from poverty and collapsing governments, became ripe for political pillaging. The ever fearful bourgeoisie succumbed to the false promises of despots and fascists. Inevitably, what followed was a firestorm of clashing ideologies in the 1940s. World War II rearranged the power players of the world by finally destroying the 19th Century militaristic legacies that had been quickly regenerated in the desperate years following the first “great war.” 45 years of the 20th Century had been burned away settling old scores. America emerged from these catastrophes as the leader of the ravished western democracies, quickly setting up new boundaries of domination and engaging in a protracted “Cold War” with the Communist world. The generation that inherited this new world order, the Camelot Generation, was eager to begin to use the economic/political/cultural power of the new American Republic to redefine the world in its own image. And it all began with the first-ever televised political debate on September 26, 1960.
“…In substance, the candidates were much more evenly matched. Indeed, those who heard the first debate on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner. But the 70 million who watched television saw a candidate still sickly and obviously discomforted by Kennedy’s smooth delivery and charisma. Those television viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard. Studies of the audience indicated that, among television viewers, Kennedy was perceived the winner of the first debate by a very large margin.”
Keep in mind the idea of perception. How we perceive things is how we understand them. In the new lens based critique, the “culture of signs”, the “age of reproduction”, context is KING. Here is the first instance of the power of the cool image, the cypher, the avatar. Jack Kennedy was so open and easy that he could become anything to anyone given a certain context. He was the loving young father, the intellectual author, the handsome husband, the war hero, the world leader, the strong military strategist, the corporate point man and the civil rights champion. And he did it all without breaking a sweat.
Postmodernism, a newly ascendant theoretical model, was heralded and exemplified by Jack Kennedy’s televised appearance, his coolness, his youth and glamour. Postmodernism’s first public appearance riveted a nation hungry for a new type of leader, a new idea of power and a new acceptance of privilege. The art world began looking for art that could impart these qualities, and they found it in POP. Pop was urbane, camp, ironic and slick. It was an art of confidence, surety and splendor. Suddenly everything that had come before looked out of place, hard, uneasy, imperfect and OLD. The surviving ABEX painters were now deep into haggard middle age and tied to a corrupt European intellectual and visual heritage. Their work spoke of a different America, one consumed with the problems and dark philosophies of the Old World, an America fighting to survive. The new artists, on the other hand, were as light as the airwaves, as deep as a magazine article and as glamourous as movie stars. They were the Postmoderns, and they were programmed for our entertainment. A tidal wave of new art, new attitudes about art, and most importantly, a new academy of art came flooding into our world. This was the beginning of the POMO Empire.
IN this series we’ll be discussing the legacy of the Postmodern 1960s. We’ll discuss the culture that came before, how POMO has re-shaped the art world, and why we continue to exist in its shadow. But more importantly, we’ll be exploring solutions, new ideas and visual provocations for the 21st Century. It is a new age and we demand a new Art! Stay Tuned!