‘Hot Cold Cool’
Art Museum at the University of Memphis. On display through Jan. 12, 2013. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 142 CFA Building. For information: 901-678-2224; memphis.edu/amum
The striking exhibition "Hot Cold Cool" at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis packs a punch.
The display of four fine-art print portfolios from AMUM's collection tracks a landmark decade of turmoil — 1964-1973 — that shook the world, transformed society and changed art itself.
Not only are there works by some of the world's most acclaimed artists, but the collections also have been largely invisible since they were acquired years ago.
"We've got all of this cool stuff in our collection that hadn't been widely seen," says Leslie Luebbers, director of AMUM.
There are works by Andy Warhol, Louise Nevelson, Red Grooms, Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein, among many others.
"In thinking how to link the portfolios in a thematic way," Luebbers says, "I came up with Hot Cold Cool," and the title nicely sums up key elements of that decade.
"Hot" refers to art protesting the war in Vietnam. "Cold" alludes to the Cold War. "Cool," meanwhile, represents changes in art from apolitical postwar Abstract Expressionism to works that fiercely took a stand.
"The view that art shouldn't tell stories was a convenient stance in the era of McCarthy," Luebbers says. But in the 1960s, "stories needed to be told, and artists like Robert Motherwell did that. Then Warhol came along, and he was the new cool."
The dozens of prints in the exhibition chronicle the fierceness of change.
"Ten Works x Ten Painters," published in 1964, reflects a time when the war in Vietnam was accellerating, the Civil Rights Movement was in full flower and the Beatles were transforming popular culture.
The portfolio includes minimalist silkscreens by Ellsworth Kelly, Ad Reinhardt and Frank Stella. There are also the emerging Pop artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Indiana riffing on consumerism and Madison Avenue.
The 1967 portfolio "American Artists and Writers Protest the War in Vietnam" shows how some artists were mounting an in-your-face challenge to society and government.
Some artists (Reinhardt and Carol Summers, for example) did pieces unlike their regular work. Others, like Louise Nevelson, did their own work that didn't necessarily have antiwar imagery, but did contribute to the effort.
"Ten Lithographs by Ten Artists" in 1971 was created in support of the unusual Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. These diverse works are by either alumni or faculty of the program, started in the 1940s by artists (and still governed by artists).
These artists, including Philip Pearlstein, Philip Guston and Red Grooms, were instrumental in opening mainstream art to a wider array of styles and philosophies.
The fourth and largest portfolio is 1973's "World Print One: Folio Seventy Three San Francisco: World Print Council." These 20 international prints are particularly interesting in context of the times. Travel and correspondence were severely limited between countries in the Soviet sphere and the rest of the world. But print exhibitions were one of the few ways in which artists in both realms could share work and ideas. The shows would travel around the world, and in the midst of the Cold War, the exhibitions were considered "cool" in that the pieces generally avoided overt political criticism.
While "Hot Cold Cool" is showing in the main gallery area, two other remarkable exhibitions are on display nearby. "Jan Hankins: 11 Septembers" is a fiercely political installation of painting and sculpture in the ArtLab gallery. And "By the Fire of Satire: Russian Propaganda Prints" shows plenty of wit in the Soviet campaign against corruption and waste. Both through Nov. 21.