Summer of Love @ the Whitney

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The Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era exhibition at the Whitney Museum features a series of work from the 1960’s through 1970’s; the artists that range from Andy Warhol to Lucas Samaras. Work from this era are characterized as being a direct reaction to popular culture and instead of art being an activity only to be performed by (and for) the elite, art was created by people from all walks of life. Two pieces of work, both by Abdul Mati Klarwein, demonstrated not only the new wave of art that focused on every aspect of popular culture, but his work also touches on the rise of consumerism and how it affected old conventions of society.

The first piece, The Aleph Sanctuary, was originally a 3×3 meter, metallic cube which contained over sixty paintings1; each piece arranged to resemble the more famous Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. The deliberate religious architecture behind Klarwein’s sanctuary seems to belittle the Christian institution by rendering the monumental church in a minimalistic manner. The small size of the Aleph Sanctuary can serve as representation of the church’s quickly shrinking influence. The younger generation was no longer restricted to finding happiness through God and the church, but through any means necessary. The pursuits of happiness of this generation ranged from the explosion of consumerism to the use of drugs and excess alcohol.

The original Aleph Sanctuary features a series of paintings that lined its walls1, each depicting scenes that characterized pop culture in the 1960’s and 70’s; however, the most ‘Pop’ artwork inside the sanctuary was the “Grain of Sand” (also by Klarwein). This painting depicts sexual themes, consumerism, racial equality, civil unrest, and the psychedelic nature of the decade. Naked women are littered throughout the entire painting; however unlike the roof of the Sistine Chapel, women of both races are depicted. Women and men of color replace the white religious figures and the Caucasian female on the upper-left quadrant of the painting is shown with red skin and green eyes; immediately this colorization seems to give of the connotation of evil. This is a complete upheaval of society’s current attitude towards different races.

The entire painting is a surreal landscape where fashion and luxury are intertwined; these two elements relating to the heavy consumerism and the rush to be at the top of the market, both as consumer and producer. The painting seems to say that everyone who is a consumer is entitled to these luxuries. The vibrant colors of the painting overall represented the ‘life’ and energy of the decade. The youth was blooming, taking action in everything they could get their hands on. This wasn’t limited to drugs, but it also included activism against the government and environmental issues. These two pieces of art by Mati Klarwein, are the best examples of Pop artwork during the 1960’s, each demonstrating the mainstream culture during the period and the events that shaped the artwork.

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