At MOCA ReFocus on the 70s: Pattern and Decoration

June 25, 2012 4 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

As part of the continuing series of retrospective shows of contemporary art by decade, the current exhibition highlights works and movements from the 1970s. Join us below the fold for an explanation of Pattern and Decoration within the process oriented decade!

Pattern and Decoration
As abstract painting and Photorealism vied for prominence in the 1970s, by the later years of the decade a third style of painting emerged, opening new artistic territories. Pattern and Decoration (P&D), also known as New Decoration, was comprised of a loosely-associated group of artists who made paintings through the application of decorative patterns and techniques. The canvases, overflowing with flower motifs, and geometric shapes presented a new possibility in the world of 1970s painting—while the works were highly representational, each flower, heart or shape distinct and recognizable, the works were non-hierarchical. Therefore, Painting and Decoration did not distinguish between background and foreground, nor did it emphasize specific aspects of the composition. Rather, much as the abstract paintings of the time, it covered the canvas from edge to edge in an all-encompassing design.
At the outset of the movement, Pattern and Decoration artists reacted against the severe lines and restrained compositions ofminimalism.  Yet, they often retained the same "flattening grid" frequently employed by Minimalist painters. However, whereas Minimalist paintings were austere, P&D paintings were boldly colored and vividly patterned.

While there were multiple reasons for this movement’s timeliness in the late 1970s, among them was the rise of feminism. Many of the female artists involved, including the artist Miriam Shapiro, were active feminists who saw themselves as participants in a political movement as well as an aesthetic one. While traditionally shunned from the realm of high art, these female artists felt the need to affirm the strength of decorativeness in history—particularly as the history of decoration was, for centuries, integrally tied to the work of women.

Curatorial Notes, Ben Johnson
MOCA Jacksonville

Miriam Schapiro
(Canadian, b. 1923)
Baby Blocks, 1983
Drawing (collage) on paper
Published by Graphicstudio,
University of South Florida Collection

Refocus:  Art of the 1970s

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.