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The Hippie Struggle for Utopia Gets Its Own Exhibition

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is now exhibiting a show on the artistic impact of the hippie generation.

by DJ Pangburn
Nov 19 2015, 10:20pm

Haus-Rucker-Co ‘Environment Transformer/Flyhead Helmet’, 1968. Archive Zamp Kelp. Photo © Haus-Rucker-Co, Gerald Zugmann. All images courtesy Walker Art Center

Did the hippie, that free-lovin’, hallucinogen-ingesting countercultural figure, actually have more of an impact on modern culture than previously assumed? Curator Andrew Blauvelt certainly thinks so in Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, a new exhibition and book by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The radical hippie aesthetic is detailed in the book in Blauvelt's chapter, titled “The Barricade and the Dance Floor: Aesthetic Radicalism and the Counterculture." He writes that "psychedelia" followed pointilism, depicting “the cracking open of all [its] perceptual and formal qualities." But, Blauvelt tells The Creators Project, since the show covers the decade roughly from 1964 to 1974, psychedelia is only one aspect of it.

Neville D'Almeida and Hélio Oiticica ‘CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress’, 1973. Colored hammocks, 35mm slides, audio disc 196-7/8 x 236-1/4 x 236-1/4" variable size. Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2007

“Part of the problem has been that the period has been reduced to psychedelia and I wanted to open it up to other forms of countercultural production,” he says. “The part that does deal with psychedelia more explicitly is in section one of the show, dubbed ‘Turn On,’ (the show is loosely structured around the Leary mantra ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out’). Here we tackle the notion of turning on to include the use of psychedelics but also spiritual means and the use of technologies—the so-called drugless trip.”

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville ‘Women in Design: The Next Decade’, 1975. Poster, diazo printed and cut 15 1/4" x 21". Courtesy Sheila Levrant de Bretteville

This part of the show features works like the painting DMT from Isaac Abrams, who Blauvelt says is probably the most promoted artist of the psychedelic period. The show also features watercolor works likely produced under the influence of LSD, as well as some ephemera from the Trips Festival, the legendary psychedelic music festival held in San Francisco in 1966. Also included are technologies by architects like Haus Rucker Co from Vienna, who created a Mind Expanding program that involved sensory helmets and chairs for two, and some speculative works by Archigram that anticipate today’s augmented and virtual reality technologies.

Installation shot, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

The “Tune In” section is a “deep dive” into the community formations facilitated by printed matter, like posters, prints, magazines, and so on.

“This was the great publishing revolution that birthed alternative and underground publishing,” Blauvelt says. “Everything from the Whole Earth Catalog to the social and political commentary in Sister Corita Kent’s prints or Emory Douglas’s 'posters' in the Black Panther Party newspaper.”

Ken Isaacs ‘Superchair’, 1967. Courtesy the artist

The final section, “Drop Out,” was inspired by the refusal to participate in mainstream society or normative values. The exhibition looks at the artist colony turned commune Drop City with photos and films, but also a recreation of the dome the community built that was inspired by Buckminster Fuller. Also included in this section is The Ultimate Painting, a round canvas that spins and is illuminated by strobe lights that the viewer can manipulate to reveal different compositions in its abstract geometric design.

“This section also looks at new ways of making and presenting art, including the social and immersive work by Helio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, Cosmococoa,” says Blauvelt. “Or the advent of portable video technology and the desire for use in facilitating a more radical democracy.”

Judith Williams'

 Payne’s Gray, c. 1966, watercolor, gouache and ink on paper 16 3/8 x 17 7/8 in. (41.6 x 45.4 cm). Collection of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, The University of British Columbia. Gift of Mary and Gordon Payne, 2009

While the Walker show will be the largest, its core components will travel to other venues on the tour, so some special installations may not appear given space limitations.

“There are so many ideas that were truly radical and inventive and imaginative at this historical moment that often contend with issues that are truly contemporary in nature, whether environmentalism and climate change or personal computing, or sharing economies, or social justice issues,” Blauvelt says.

Installation shot, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

“It seems that from the trajectory of the 1960s and early 1970s we can draw a straight line to today’s world,” he adds. “I hope people follow some of those threads and they can reflect on today’s world to better understand how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.”

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia runs until February 28, 2016 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

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