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High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975
Mary Heilmann, Ties in My Closet, 1972, Acrylic and fabric on canvas, 74 x 50 in. (188 x 127 cm), Watkins Collection, American University Museum , Gift of Marvin and Florence Gerstin.
NEW YORK.- The National Academy Museum presents High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975 bringing together over forty significant works by thirty-seven artists living and working in New York between 1967 and 1975. Opening on February 15, 2006, the groundbreaking works presented in this exhibition were created by painters who courageously crossed disciplines to take a nontraditional approach to the medium.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the New York art world was an exciting place to be. "Painting is dead!" was a popular slogan. New mediums such as performance and video art were developing, and sculpture was quickly expanding in many different directions. However, experimental abstract painting actually was thriving, energized by a diverse group of New York artists. Influenced by new artistic freedoms and the tumultuous political and social changes of the time, these pioneering artists created paintings of great joy, fury, and intellect.

High Times, Hard Times also reflects the impact on the art world of the civil rights struggle, student and anti-war activism, and the beginning of feminism. The works included in this exhibition represent some of the most experimental art of the time. These artists' re-examination of art through new approaches to the medium of painting was very much in keeping with the era's radical aesthetics and politics.

Half of the artists in the exhibition are women, several are African-American, and some are artists from other countries who lived temporarily in New York; many of whom were not recognized at the time or, conversely, were excluded from paintings' canonical history. These artists' identities are not incidental but essential to grasping the possibilities of the period. (Perhaps part of the reason painting at this time has been left out of the history books; subsequent painting revivals have been adamantly male-as Joan Snyder, a National Academician, complained about macho neo-expressionism's sudden revival of painting, "It wasn't 'neo' to us.")

Exhibition Sections - The works in High Times, Hard Times are divided into groups that are at once formal and chronological. The works in the first group, dating from the late 1960s are large, rectangular, stretched canvases hung on the wall a format based on conventions challenged later in this exhibition-to elicit the mood of euphoria and optimism so prevalent in the late sixties.

In the second group, artists begin to take painting apart. These paintings are often super-thin or made of soft unsupported cloth and some come off the wall into the room, sit on the floor, or are suspended from the ceiling. The wild array of structures and formats take liberties with the medium of painting in ways that challenge its history and expand its future.

Installation and performance are emphasized in the third selection of works, stretching the elastic definition of painting even further, as painters experience the pressure and possibility of new mediums such as installation and performance. The artists use their bodies and the space around the physical projects, incorporating the viewer into the environment of the work. The performance pieces are documented by photographs or video and in some cases the original works have been recreated according to the artist's instructions. These works have an intensity and expansiveness that springs from a willingness to doubt fundamentally what a painting is.

Film and video exerted their own pull in the early seventies; many if not most avant-garde artists experimented with these new mediums. The fourth group of works includes paintings that reflect this influence. Using unusual techniques including spraying, iridescence and visual interference, the surfaces of these works suggest filmic effects such as speed, flicker, and distortion. Many of these painters also used film and video directly, and this section includes film and video works that connect with the paintings through their sense of color and movement.

No artistic culture could indefinitely sustain either the total possibility or the intense doubt of the early 1970s. By the mid-seventies, painters had returned to more traditional stretched-canvas formats, but many brought the innovations of deconstruction, performance and installation with them. Some of the work in this final group carries with it a frankly elegiac mood marking the end of the previous moment of limitless horizons. Other paintings are infused with bold color, a celebration of paint's physical properties, and even imagery.

While the exhibition's ending represents a "return" to more traditional forms of painting, it captures not only the discoveries of earlier experiments, but also the tremendous opening-up of painting in the 1970s. With the distance now of more than thirty-five years comes an opportunity to bring new research and perspective to the history of the time. High Times, Hard Times proposes to insert a new critical perspective on the subject, and equally valuable, the opportunity for audiences to have a fresh look at work sometimes little seen since it was first exhibited - and completely unseen by a whole generation of viewers. The paintings in this exhibition connect our present moment to a rich and exciting past that continues to resonate today.



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