The New York Collection for Stockholm Arrives at the CFA
By Clifford Michel
Striking prints from “The New York Collection for Stockholm” are currently hanging at the Gallery of the College of Staten Island, displaying the style and cutting age shift into Pop Art.
The collection showcases the aggressive innovations of New York art in the 1960s, which included the interactive, multidimensional, and multimedia elements mostly associated with pop art.
Directly contrasting with the popular abstract expressionism of the 1950s, New York art from the 1960s was obsessed with the emerging culture of mass media. While most troops were back in the United States from Vietnam by 1973, anti-war and anti-America sentiment still ran high among many artists.
Roy Lichstein’s 1973 Finger Pointing combines most of these elements. The image’s background pops with red, and the familiar display of a hand pointing at the viewer is taken directly from the famous Uncle Sam “I want you for the U.S. Army” advertisement. And while the purpose of the work of art is still up for grabs, it’s theorized to display America’s general disapproval with the Vietnam War.
“Pop art represented here…was a movement that elevated the signs of commercialized, popular culture to the level of Art with a capital ‘A,’” said Dr. Nanette Salomon, the Gallery’s Curator and a Professor of Art History. “It tested the boundaries between art and life as well as canonical assumptions of the subjects, materials, and practices of the traditional Fine arts.”
An untitled work of art by Nam June Paik pieced together typed questions with an advertisement from the 1940s, and a sketch beneath it. A far cry from the soul-searching abstract of the 50s, the art that was showcased focuses in on media, and how central it is to American life. The gallery explored society’s superficial and materialistic values in such an unorthodox way that it changed what was considered art.
Featuring artists like Lichstein, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and others, the exhibit gives a direct and visceral account of culture in the 1960s.
“What holds this collection together as a whole, despite the variety of styles and working methods, is the high degree of artistic self-consciousness and self-reference. They all present a challenge to the notion of what constitutes an understanding of art, artist, and artistic expression,” Salomon said. “Moreover, the works manifests the spirit of experimentation and of pushing the boundaries of art-making so characteristic of the general counter-cultural sentiment of the 1960s.”
The works of feminists and ideas from the Civil Rights Movement who criticized much of the art world’s establishment are notably left out, Salomon analyzed in her essay accompanying the exhibit. The exclusion of these political thoughts give insight into the views of the established culture of modern art in the late 1960s and 1970s, Salomon concluded.
The series of prints were originally created by American and European artists who worked in New York to raise money to fund a larger collection of art, which will be displayed in a public institution. The collection included installations, paintings, and sculptures that reflected the effects of working in New York.
Princess Christina Magnuson of Sweden became a patroness for the larger collection and the works of art still sit in Sweden today. Though the art was accepted, the Vietnam War had anti-American sentiment running high, especially in Sweden, which accepted those who were trying to escape the draft and aided North Korea economically.
Whether the collection was originally sold or donated is still a matter of debate, but New Jersey’s Newark Public Library now permanently owns the works.
The New York Collection for Stockholm will hung at the Gallery till November 8. The Gallery now holds The Photography of Hinda Schuman until December 13. The exhibit, “A World In Between,” is open on Mondays through Thursday from 12PM-4PM and on Saturdays from 12PM-3PM.