The voice of the artist has long told the story of the state of the world.
Historically, art has communicated the social, cultural and political shifts within society. Nowhere is this more evident than in the 1960s, when art became more accessible to everyday citizens. As art became more prominent in magazines, posters and popular culture in general, the messages created by artists gained an even wider audience.
The legacy of the sixties is examined at Dickinson College’s Trout Gallery in “The Spirit of the Sixties — Art as an Agent for Change.” This student-curated show examines the period’s art and its lasting impact on subsequent generations.
The journey begins with a lithograph by Pablo Picasso titled “Flying Dove with Rainbow.” The subject of this print is a dove against a pastel rainbow to communicate its message of peace.
Sister Mary Corita Kent created bold, colorful abstracts that include lines from renowned poets e.e. cummings and Walt Whitman. Her works promote love, peace and good will. The imagery reflects the feel-good optimism of the early- to mid-sixties.
The use of artistic imagery in magazines is exemplified by the pages of “motive Magazine,” a left-leaning publication produced by the Methodist student movement from 1941 to 1972. Graphic images addressed topics such as war, ecology and racism. The exhibition not only displays prints from the pages of the magazine but also original copies of the publication. It is interesting to note that Dennis Akin, professor emeritus from Dickinson College, was the art editor of “motive” from 1967-71.
The rise in popularity of the use of poster art coincided with the beginnings of two social movements that still hold relevance today. Human rights organization, Amnesty International, made use of jarring images in their posters to draw attention to their politically charged work. French surrealist Roland Topor provides one such notable image.
The Olivetti Corporation produced a series of posters in 1971 by such well-known artists as Georgia O’Keeffe and Roy Lichtenstein to benefit UNICEF. The series coincided with the rise of the environmental movement on the heels of the first Earth Day celebration. Four of the posters are on display in “The Spirit of the Sixties.”
As the momentum of the sixties moved into the seventies, Robert Rauschenberg reflected the confusion and chaos erupting with a series of serigraphs in 1970. His newspaper collages were constructed with the sensational headlines of the time. The random, overlapping placement of the text communicates the multiple messages and noise put forth by the media.
The effects of sixties’ activism echoes even today as it continues the conversation on topics such as racism, war and political corruption, but serves also to bring new issues to the forefront. To illustrate this point, the exhibition includes Rupert Garcia’s “The First of May, 2004” which co-opts the recognizable figure of an Iraqi detainee at Abu Ghraib. The darkened shrouded figure alludes to Crucifixion imagery and directly references Francisco Goya’s “Third of May, 1808.”
“The Spirit of the Sixties — Art as an Agent for Change” brings to the forefront the influence of art in society that has only grown in subsequent decades. Elizabeth Lee, associate professor of art history at Dickinson College notes, “The artists represented in ‘The Spirit of the Sixties’ are far more willing to commit to the idea that art can be expressly political, but also to the notion that it might challenge the viewer’s perspective, and even, lead to social change.” This is an exhibit that cannot only be appreciated for its aesthetic value but for its societal impact.
“The Spirit of the Sixties — Art as an Agent for Change” is on display at the Trout Gallery through April 11. The Trout Gallery, located in the Emil R. Weiss Center for the Arts on the campus of Dickinson College at 240 W. High St., Carlisle, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.troutgallery.org or call 717-245-1344.
Joseph George holds a degree in history and art history from Dickinson College. He and his wife, Barrie Ann have spent much of their 25 years together traveling and visiting art galleries locally and throughout the world. Their tastes range from fine art to street art.
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