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Jaroslaw Kozlowski, He Has a Cigarette in His Mouth, book, 1972
1945-1979: A Turbulent Time

1945 to 1979 constitutes a discrete and significant historical period. It saw the advent of the cold war and Vietnam; the civil rights movement and the women's movement; the questioning of family values, sexual orientation, and racial stereotyping; and the emergence of an activist youth culture. In the art world, for the first time dominance shifted from Europe to the United States. Coming after the height of Modernism and before the first fully postmodern generation, the artists represented in Beyond Geometry developed radical new forms of art making, simultaneously reflecting and helping to shape a socially and politically turbulent period.

Escalating Globalization

Having lived under the cultural hegemony of Europe, many U.S. artists and their supporters viewed this as their moment and saw their art as entirely separate from developments elsewhere. The exhibition questions that hypothesis, instead positing a growing global consciousness. As the period begins, most artistic trends were regional, but by the end of the sixties, cheap air travel, photocopy machines, and easy long-distance telecommunications had permitted a broad-based intercontinental art discourse, the foundation of today's international art world. Common intellectual and artistic concerns, developed in the years immediately following World War II, formed the basis for this unprecedented coming together.

Beyond Geometry examines these developments as they took place all over the West. Latin America and Central Europe are frequently referred to as "non-Western." In both cases this is a misunderstanding. Beyond Geometry helps place the recent art history of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland within that of the West, where it belongs. It looks carefully at differences as well as similarities in art trends and ideas on the three continents.

Concepts and Strategies

Artists in Europe and the Americas attempted to forge new, more interactive relationships with the viewer. They sought a dynamic art that engaged the spectator's entire body, not only the eyes. Widespread interest in phenomenology'a philosophy of perception-fueled this quest. Following the precepts of French artist, Marcel Duchamp, artists emphasized art's intellectual properties. Prizing process over product, many created systems for art making-mathematical and rational or random and irrational. Some used movement-whether actual (powered by motors or natural forces) or virtual (using optical illusions)-making the time it took to experience an art work explicit, and expressing the fleeting nature of perception. Others made light installations that engulfed observers in mesmerizing and seemingly transcendent environments.

The notion of the literalness of the art object, first proposed by Dutch modernist Theo van Doesburg in 1930 in a manifesto on Concrete Art, also had widespread currency in the decades after World War II. Literalness (or the concrete) in art signified that meaning resided exclusively in the physical art object, rather than its metaphorical content or relationship to the outside world. For some this concern required a move to three dimensions. As U.S. artist Robert Morris put it, "the sculptural facts of space, light, and material have always functioned concretely and literally."

By the 1960s, artists who highlighted the intellectual in their work engaged in a critique of the museum and gallery systems, creating new forms, including temporary installations and huge earthworks in remote locations, that opposed the mechanisms by which art became revered and commodified. Their creation of systems for art making, which theoretically reduced the authority and mystique of the creator, further undermined the values of the art market.

Although history has often posited a divide between structural and expressionist art, during the period in question, artists' use of geometric shapes and systematic strategies was anything but "pure." While earlier forms of geometric Modernism impacted much of the work included in Beyond Geometry, Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel, Dada, Pop, and other movements also deeply influenced many of the artists in the show. Some of those included continued to work in a geometric and/or systemic mode; for others these approaches constituted a brief but significant interlude in their production.
May 2022
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