MOCA Jacksonville : ReFocus, Art of the 1970s

July 22, 2012 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville continues its retrospective tour of Contemporary Art from the 1960s until the present. Join us after the Jump for details on "Systemic Art" from the 1970s!

Part of the first wave of the Conceptual Art movement, Systems art emerged in the late 1960s and extended well into the 1970s. The British art critic Lawrence Alloway coined the term "Systemic art" to describe a type of abstract art characterized by the use of very simple standardized forms, usually geometric in character, either in a single concentrated image or repeated in a system arranged according to a clearly visible principle of organization.

Rather than from observations of things visible in the external natural environment, systems art stems from the study of depicted shapes and of the relationship between them. While criticized as austere, Alloway argued that such works are not impersonal: “the personal is not expunged by using a neat technique: anonymity is not a consequence of highly finishing a painting".

Alloway’s observation holds true in the works of Jennifer Bartlett, such as Color Index I. While the work at first appears highly systematic and conspicuously cognitive, the range of color gives it an irrational aura. Also, the closeness and density of the forms gives them an unexpected sense of intimacy. Irregular patterns are often embedded in the all-over grid system, lending them a subjective intensity.

Exemplifying a more prototypical systems approach, Alfred Jensen distilled the ideas he derived from theories of color, mathematics, science and ancient cultures into notated diagrams, which he then transmuted into paintings. His interest in the numerical systems of past civilizations led him to base works on architectural structures, notably those of Greece and Central America. The artist once described his work as ''a continuous oscillation between numerical and prismatic concerns,'' and said the structural systems by which he ordered it came ''from the psyche, which decides what it's all about.''

MOCA will continue to examine the “Me Decade” that gave rise to Photorealism, Earthworks, and Conceptual Art and expanded the boundaries of Abstract Painting, Video, Performance and Installation Art.

As the 1970s dawned, American society was still reeling from the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and the artistic explosions that accompanied them. Artists and their public alike were experiencing a period of freedom and taboo-breaking unprecedented in American history. When the smoke cleared there seemed to be little left that artists had not tried or audiences had not seen.

Art during the 1970s became defined by fragmentation of artists and their audiences, the retreat from collective movements in favor of personal statements, and the desire to create new art forms by fusing existing forms, as well as stepping outside the confines of museums or galleries.

In the wake of the artistic innovations of the 1960s, movements and art forms that had seemed groundbreaking or revolutionary played themselves out. Exhausted by the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and disillusioned by the implosion of their Utopian ideals, artists rejected statements as irrelevant and instead concentrated on personal artistic goals. Still others, and much of the art audience at large, took refuge in nostalgia, seeking comfort in images that reflected the “lost innocence” of a pre-1960s America, she said.

Whatever they embraced, many artists sensed that reaching a single mass audience was increasingly unlikely or even undesirable and that their commercial appeal, especially in the face of the nation’s economic setbacks, was limited. The age of the artist as superstar seemed over. Unlike the 1950s and 1960s, which produced many celebrities in art, the 1970s progressed with the majority of its biggest talents working far from the mainstream and appreciated by a select, usually underground, audience.

from the curatorial notes of
Ben Thomson
Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville
ReFocus: The Art of the 1970s

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