A new exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York looks at modern art’s influence on the early days of TV
Margaret Rhodes writes: As far as song-and-dance TV shows go, American Bandstand and Soul Train could hardly have been more different. Bandstand, which originally aired in 1952, showcased poodle skirt–wearing teenagers singing along to Top 40 radio hits, while Soul Train, which debuted two decades later, had a funkier repertoire of R&B, jazz, soul, and gospel acts.
“The pioneers of early television understood the medium’s innate power, and they mined the aesthetic, stylistic, and conceptual possibilities of a new and powerful technology.”
— Curator Maurice Berger
But the shows did have one surprising thing in common: set designs heavily influenced by modern art. The abstracted platforms, stepped risers, and colored spotlights were lifted straight from the world of minimalist art, according to Abbott Miller, a Pentagram partner and one of the designers of a new exhibition up in New York titled Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television.
The advent of premium cable channels may have ushered in a golden age of TV, but the experimentalism of TV’s early days shouldn’t be underestimated. Today we praise shows that meticulously and authentically re-create a look or moment, like the 1960s-era New York we watch on Mad Men, or the meth labs and Albuquerque homes of Breaking Bad.
But when TV was just getting started, executives and creatives saw it differently, as a place where the art world and mass media could intersect. “The pioneers of early television understood the medium’s innate power, and they mined the aesthetic, stylistic, and conceptual possibilities of a new and powerful technology,” writes curator Maurice Berger. Television executives of the time, Berger says, were fascinated by avant-garde artists and saw television as not just a way to entertain the masses but as a vehicle for ideas about modern art.
If you ever thought TV pre-HBO was the fast food of entertainment, Revolution of the Eye, now open at the Jewish Museum in New York City, has more than 250 artifacts to prove otherwise. The exhibit is all about the early days of network programming—from the 1940s to the 1970s—and spotlights the ways networks were influenced by the aesthetics of high art and clever design in a way they haven’t been since….(read more)
Take the titles from Laugh-In, for example: “It was trafficking in this Pop, almost psychedelic, language that is pretty concurrent with the psychedelic poster explosion on the West Coast, but they were using it to signify that this was a different kind of media,” Miller says. Read the rest of this entry »
“The exhibition is about great art and a singular place in the American imagination.”
— Curator Robin Jaffee
With its new show, “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008,” the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., dives into the oceanfront playground’s role as a muse to painters, photographers, filmmakers and other artists. The museum calls the show the first one dedicated solely to art about Coney Island and the largest museum exhibition to focus entirely on the entertainment mecca in Brooklyn, N.Y. It opens Jan. 31 before starting a three-city U.S. tour.
“There has been nothing that takes people through the ages literally from Coney Island’s beginnings,” said curator Robin Jaffee Frank, who has been working on the show for the past five years. “The exhibition is about great art and a singular place in the American imagination.”
“Such sexually suggestive forms of pleasure mixed voyeurism, exhibitionism and public humiliation into an addictive modern cocktail.”
— Curator Robin Jaffee, Frank, in a catalog essay
Ms. Frank, a Brooklyn native who visited Coney Island often as a child, vividly recalls being terrified by sights like the Cyclops head that hung at the Spook-A-Rama, a 1950s thrill ride that took passengers under a blood-red waterfall and past horror figures.
She grew increasingly fascinated by art about the landmark over her more than two decades at the Yale University Art Gallery, where she became senior associate curator of American paintings and sculpture in 2006. She brought her research for the show with her when the Wadsworth Atheneum hired her as chief curator in 2011. The Yale University Art Gallery is the exhibit’s biggest lender. Read the rest of this entry »
Sam Frizell reports: In a very literal interpretation of the idiom “finding a needle in a haystack,” performance artist Sven Sacselber tries to do exact that. For about two days in a gallery in Paris, he is attempting to find an actual needle in an actual mound of hay.
Performance art often straddles a fine line between brilliance and inanity. Marina Abramović adventurous “Rhythm” series and Joseph Beuys shamanic “I Like America and America Likes Me” are widely agreed to have achieved the former category. Read the rest of this entry »
Two Whispering Politicians, undated
NOTES: Acquired 1950. © Estate of Ben Shahn/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
“This is a world’, Gorky said of Summation. But it is an ambiguous world. The plant– and animal–like forms that appear to blossom, flop, poke, and tickle each other defy identification, even while their forms are crisp and clear. Gorky’s interest in the Surrealist practice of spontaneous and unplanned ‘automatic’ drawing freed and mobilized his line, allowing him to create what Surrealist leader André Breton called ‘hybrids’, or linear units with multiple metaphoric meanings.
– MoMA text on-line
“I don’t want to be the judge who has a Picasso destroyed”
“Le Tricorne” is a 19-foot-tall canvas that Picasso painted in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes. It was originally used as a curtain for “The Three-Cornered Hat,” a now-classic ballet composed by Manuel de Falla and choreographed by Léonide Massine for which Picasso designed the sets and costumes. John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, considers the décor for the ballet to be his “supreme theatrical achievement,” and the curtain is a priceless relic, one of the last surviving souvenirs of the most influential ballet company of the 20th century. Forty years after Picasso painted it, Philip Johnson incorporated “Le Tricorne” into his plans for the Four Seasons Restaurant, which is located in Mies van der Rohe‘s Seagram Building, a 38-story skyscraper that is itself a classic of modern architecture. Ever since the Four Seasons opened in 1959, “Le Tricorne” has hung in the entryway, where it can be seen not only by patrons but by passers-by. The interior of the Four Seasons was designated as a landmark in 1989, meaning that it can’t be altered without official approval.
End of story…right? Not even close.