Changing Times: Art of the 1960’s
Dayton Art Institute
May 22, 2021 – September 12, 2021
What a wonderful surprise to find myself in my hometown while the exhibit, Changing Times: Art of the 1960’s was at the Dayton Art Institute. The Museum has been refurbished since I moved away many years ago, so it wasn’t at all like I remembered. I found everything about it very pleasing, from the Italian Renaissance inspired architecture to the view on top of the hill that overlooks the Miami River.
What used to be the school where I took classes when I was in 6th grade has been turned into three very large exhibition areas. Downstairs they house the current exhibit, Changing Times: Art of the 1960’s, the Asian Collection and a few other smaller shows. Upstairs is the American Collection and the European Collection, their permanent collections. I enjoyed each hall and staircase, along with the garden in the center.
The art this small Midwestern museum has collected over the years is impressive. I am used to the Dallas Museum of art and the Kimball, so my bar is high, but that was definitely met when I spent the afternoon there with my family.
A Decade of Change
Why did I enjoy Changing Times: Art of the 1960’s so much? You might expect it was because I am a child of the 60’s. However, I did not become familiar with the art that makes up the show until I attended classes at the University of Texas at Dallas. That is where the works of Robert Motherwell, Sol LeWit, and James Rosenquist, to name a few, became a part of my reference as to where I am placed in art history. I didn’t know who had shaped the decades I grew up in until my art professors unpacked it all for me. Until UTD, art history for me had stopped somewhere after the post-impressionists. Although the influence of the mid-century artists is everywhere around us, I did not understand what had happened, what had changed.
Tell Me What’s Going On
The exhibit Changing Times: Art of the 1960’s documents it all with an amazing selection from that period. As I was observing the work before me and answered questions that my family asked me, I realized what was going on at this time. Art was no longer created from selected type of material; oils and canvass, marble and bronze, but a vast array of material were beginning to be used in the art. Nor was art confined to topics that were deemed suitable and following a long tradition.
Artists in the 60s explored the question, “what is art?” Art was no longer defined for them, they were defining art for themselves. The effect they had on culture is incalculable. Everything changed.
I would like to share some of the photos I took and examine them with you. Look at how the artist asked the question, what is art? What preconceived ideas about art does the work challenge?
The The show covered four major movements of art: Pop Art, Op Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art. I will define* the art movements for you. Then place the work in the movement it was conceived in and tie it to the question the works ask.
Pop Art asks the question what subjects are suitable for art? The Pop Artist then explored pop culture, shying away from tradition subject matter to explore what people encounter in everyday life. Adopting celebrity culture, consumer goods, and mass media messaging, elevating it to art.
Op Art asks the questions is art pattern? What part does color play in pattern? Can art be based on the placement of geometric forms in arrangements along with the use of color theory to create an optical effect? Op Artists Explored optical effects that trick the eyes causing the viewer to see movement, sometimes subtly, sometimes to the point of disorientation.
Minimalism asks how far can you abstract a subject, then reduce it to a point that there is no subject, but only the art itself. At that point the art is its own reality and is not a reference to the material world or our inner feelings evoked by the world. Is art color? Shape? Line?
Conceptual Art challenges the idea of what is art by proclaiming that the concept behind the work and the method of producing the art is more important and valuable than the art itself. The Conceptual artists believed the creativity and idea behind a work should overshadows the object of art. The question Conceptual art ask is, are ideas art?
For an Artist, Why Does Art History Matter
As an artist it is important to understand my place in art history. Not because I am a famous artist, I am not. But I am an exhibiting artist existing in a time and place. I grew up in an era of change in art. So, when I examine what I create, I need to know who influenced me. What movements of art I resonate with?
I need to ask my own questions, just like the artists of the sixties did. Do I allow art to be defined for me or do I take the time to ask the questions for myself? Will define what art is for me?
How do I see color and its effect on my work? Line? Texture? Do I stick with traditional subject matter or give myself room to explore? Adopting new mediums that allows creative self-expression of new ideas, is that important to me? Does my art come from a concept? Is it an emotional expression? Or does my art exist for its own sake?
It is important for me to visit these questions from time to time. The questions allow me to see new areas of growth. The one area in my art I observed as I wrote this blog is that I stick very close to traditional subject matter. And I concluded it might be refreshing to give myself permission to break out of that mold.
* Definitions gathered from the Tate Museum of Art website.