MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
The British Museum may be most famous for its treasures from Ancient Greece and Egypt, but this month it’s home to a modern art exhibition about America, which is well worth a visit, says Sam Rogg
The British Museum presents work by artists including Andy Warhol, Jasper Jones and Julie Mehretu in The American Dream: Pop to the Present.
‘The American Dream is dead,’ declared Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign run, ‘but... I will bring it back, bigger and better and stronger than ever before.’ Whatever your feelings towards the new President of the United States, he is not the first to question America’s national ethos. For decades, the country’s most celebrated artists have used art to reflect and reject the American Dream, as a new exhibition at The British Museum reveals.
Featuring more than 200 modern and contemporary American prints by 70 artists, The American Dream: Pop to the Present (from 9 Mar) traces the artistic momentum of a superpower over the past five decades, from the explosion of Pop Art in the 1960s to the rise of minimalism, conceptual art and photorealism in print artworks.
The past 60 years have been some of the most dynamic and turbulent in US history, with explosive issues such as race, AIDS and feminism shaking the country – not to mention JFK’s assassination, the first moon landing and the Vietnam War. Through it all, American artists have responded with prints to express the USA’s power and influence, from Andy Warhol’s Vote McGovern (1972) screenprint of Richard Nixon, two years before he resigned to avoid impeachment, to Jasper Johns’ iconic FlagsI (1973), the most painterly and vivid of all his works.
‘ To me, the flag turned out to be something I had never observed before,’ said Johns in 1978. ‘I knew it was a flag, and had used the word flag; yet I had never consciously seen it. I became interested in contemplating objects I had never before taken a really good look at. In my mind that is the significance of these objects.’
Sourced from The British Museum’s outstanding collection of modern and contemporary prints, as well as museums and private collections around the world, this exhibition is a rare and timely opportunity to ponder what the American Dream is and what it ever was. Highlights include works by Roy Lichtenstein, Kara Walker and Robert Rauschenberg, who all took inspiration from the world around them to create highly original and topical art. Free from the constraints of painting and sculpture, these printmakers reached mass audiences with their innovative artworks, revealing deep divisions in society that continue to resonate with us today. For full listing, turn to p. 33
Clockwise from this image: StandardStation by Edward Ruscha; VoteMcGovern by Andy Warhol; JackieII by Andy Warhol Below: FlagsI by Jasper Johns