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Indepth Arts News:

"The New Frontier: Art and Television 1960-65"
2000-09-01 until 2000-11-26
Austin Museum of Art
Austin, TX, USA

Since the late nineteenth century, avant-garde artists have engaged with the most advanced imaging technologies of their respective eras, including photography, film, television, and, most recently, the computer. The establishment of television in the late 1950s and early 1960s as the dominant mass medium in the United States occurred during a period in which artists who were dissatisfied with the postwar triumph of abstract painting began to rediscover the avant-gardes of the 1910s and 1920s especially Dada and Constructivism. In their attempt to bridge what they perceived to be the gap between art and life, many so-called Neo-Dada artists began to engage as critically with television as their predecessors had with photography and film.

This exhibition will be the first ever to examine the impact of television on the visual arts in the United States and Europe at a crucial period in the development of both media. The origins of the media world we now inhabit in which images have come to mediate our experience of reality to an unprecedented extent can be traced back to this historic period.

Television emerged as the dominant mass medium in the United States during the era that President John F. Kennedy termed the New Frontier in 1960. Although television would soon be decried as a vast wasteland by President Kennedys controversial FCC Commissioner Newton Minow, artists began to creatively engage with the medium for the first time not just as an object to be pictured, but as a system that demanded a rethinking of the relationship between the realms of art and life.

Not only was television becoming the primary technology through which images were produced, circulated, and consumed, but it was transforming the very nature of how we perceived images. The dominance of the photographic and filmic image as a material manifestation of the real was giving way to another model: the image as the phosphorescence of electric power, a metaphor for social power. Indeed, the major television spectacles of the period, ranging from the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960 to the Four Dark Days of the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath in November 1963, exemplified the extent to which television was becoming a system comprised of a vast network of consumers and producers linked electronically via images through which fluid structures of power were continuously shaped and reshaped. The power of television resided largely in its capacity to usurp the authority of the real and to deploy this new reality to legitimate the structures of power it put in place.

Although isolated artists in the United States and Western Europe began to engage with television after World War II, this number expanded greatly during the New Frontier era. Most lived or worked in New York or Los Angeles: the two most important centers of art and television production. They include Wallace Berman, Lee Friedlander, K.O. Götz, Ray Johnson, Edward Kienholz, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Wolf Vostell, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann, among others. These artists often watched television voraciously, worked in their studios with one or more sets turned on, and even appeared on television to enhance their celebrity status. In their paintings, sculptures, installations, and happenings, they engaged with the perceptual, technological, and social changes catalyzed in part by the emergence of television as the dominant mass medium.

The exhibition contains work which can be divided into four loose categories: Screens, Circuits, Programs, and Television World. Screens, to include paintings, collages, and assemblages by artists such as Wallace Berman, Edward Kienholz, Robert Rauschenberg, Wolf Vostell, and Tom Wesselmann, will explore how artists began to develop pictorial spaces that seemed to become extensions of televisual spaceNULLseamless flows of dematerialized images drawn from the pages of popular magazines and newspapers, transformed in a manner evocative of the special effects employed in television programs and commercials, and seemingly invested with the potential for motion. It will also examine the use of actual television sets as works of art.

Circuits will feature Nam June PaikNULLs prepared television sets (ordinary sets altered to produce distorted images) and photographic documentation of the historic 1963 exhibition in which he premiered them; it will explore how artists began to examine the psychological and social implications of the practice of watching television by producing works that demanded active viewer participation and consequently contested the naturalization of the state of passive distraction that television fostered.

Programs will extend this exploration by examining how artists such as Wolf Vostell and others associated with the movement known as Fluxus began to acknowledge the effects of conventional television programming by developing sophisticated, yet engaging, alternatives in happenings and performances.

Television World, including Andy Warhols silkscreen paintings of Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of President Kennedy, Bruce Conners film inspired by this tragic event, and Dennis Hoppers Kennedy Funeral photographs, will explore how the practice of watching television had begun to reconfigure the individuals relationship to the real a harbinger of the media world that would emerge in full force in the 1970s and 1980s.

Programs for The New Frontier will be announced at a later date.

Additional support for The New Frontier has been provided by Arthur Frakes and by Joyce Christian and Rudolph H. Green.

The Austin Museum of Art is funded in part by the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission, and by the Texas Commission on the Arts. American Airlines is the official airline of the Austin Museum of Art. The Driskill is the official hotel of the Austin Museum of Art. Additional support has been provided by the Austin Museum of Art Guild and Museum Members. Promotional sponsors for the Austin Museum of Art are 107.1 KGSR, the Austin American-Statesman, The Austin Chronicle, CitySearch, and Pentagram Design.

Nam June Paik
Zen for TV, 1963/2000
Prepared television set
Collection of the
Austin Museum of Art
Photo: Jeff Rowe,
Austin Prints for Publication

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