Lucy Lippard (foreword)
Considering that Sixties America is supposed to have been a special time of swift and turbulent change, the canon of American art history of that period reflects very little of that milieu. Where it does, for example, make a critical statement of the times: in Andy Warhol’s disaster series, for example, it says something that had already been stated more artfully by some media guru or another. Editors Elissa Auther and Adam Lerner have compiled this volume of twenty chapters, each on a separate art movement or artist of the 1960s/70s counterculture, as a companion to an exhibition of the same title, shown from November 2011 - February 2012 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and from September 29, 2012 to January 6, 2013 at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
|Johnny, by Roger Anderson - 1972|
The book is varied in its approach to its subject matter, with chapters on topics such as Drop City (and later, Libre) two dome-based communes that update some of the 19th century utopian society ethos, a-la Brook Farm, with modern technology and the creative ethos of the 1960s at its centre, and Crossroads Community, a farm set up on the land under a highway interchange in San Francisco (recalling a greened and livable version of JG Ballard’s Concrete Island). The book has a number of different sections but the art movements and practices discussed in West of Centre can be broken down into discussions of creative communities that, in a sense, lived their art, including discussions of the above communities, and also Drag Collectives and various art-making workshops and retreats.
The second overarching type of art discussed in the chapters of West of Center are the more traditional graphic arts movements of the 1960s counterculture. These mostly focused on those artists who illustrated the radical publications of various liberation movements, most notably Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party and the premiere illustrator of that organization’s weekly newspaper. Another, lesser known, graphic artist for a radical cultural newspaper was Yolanda Lopez, who contributed drawings and collages to La Basta newspaper, a radical Spanish newspaper for California’s various Chicano communities. Additionally, this book includes chapters on feminist and Gay liberation artists as well as subversive ‘detourned’ advertisements that address political issues of the time. In brief, psychedelia and the accompanying 60s tradition of rock posters are also investigated with some awesome reproductions of posters by the great psychedelic artist, Rick Griffith, featured in full colour.
It should be noted, even though it may be obvious from the title, that West of Centre only focuses on countercultural art and communities from the Western United States. Nothing from the eastern hippie Mecca of New York City that provided the setting, for example, for the great Hippie musical and film, Hair, is included. Nothing focusing on the imagery produced on the periphery of the many hardcore radical movements like The White Panthers or The Motherfuckers that operated out of eastern or midwestern northern cities like Detroit or Chicago. Then again, the San Francisco Diggers weren’t mentioned either.... Anyways, the book offers plenty of information and full colour images of countercultural creative groups that have held little presence in the numerous texts of 60s nostalgia, and helps to broaden the retrospective image of 1960s art beyond the set boundaries of tie-dye clothing, Abbie Hoffman’s TV antics, and the San Francisco Oracle.