Sunday, November 29, 2015

Children of the Future Past

"Hippie Modernism – The Struggle for Utopia,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Through February 28, 2016.

Every 5 years or so, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a break-through show, similar to the ones they did on Frida Kahlo and on Picasso’s influence.  This is one.  It is organized by the theme “Tune in, Turn on, Drop Out,” which seems a cheesy, clichéd way to approach the issue, but there it is.

Organized mostly by architects, it highlights the technological developments brought about by the hippie movement in the 1960s-1970s like the use of geodesic domes, inflatables, early ‘Google glass’ headsets, light shows, the Whole Earth catalog of tools, DIY mass production of art and publications, tiny houses and modular living structures and, lastly, early computer graphics.  It doesn’t talk about the role of hippies like Steve Jobs, who, along with many others, was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975. These are the people who invented the personal computer.  1975 is the end of the hippie era for this show and the end of the Vietnam war, too.  

President Ford - Puppet of Corporations.  BPP/Douglas
Other aspects of the hippie cultural movement are also represented, a movement that was world-wide - though this sample is not so clear on that.  The use of LSD (marijuana is strangely absent) by Timothy Leary, the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead and during the Acid Tests is mentioned, though its uses to help PTSD, depression and alcoholism are not followed up on.  There are great San Francisco rock posters from Mouse, Moscoso and other famous artists.  Mention is made of the free ‘white bikes’ of Copenhagen; recycled fabric threads using in clothing; a light show done with overhead projectors and colored oil in water.  There are many different types of art projects, some of which were political; and oddly enough a real eco-greenhouse of fruit trees.

Groups like the Cockettes, an early out-front gay rights movement, who grew out of the San Francisco Mime Troop have a section, along with the “Ant Farm,’ which set up free rest stops for hippies and nomads traveling or hitch-hiking around the U.S.  The Drop City art colony living in geodesic domes in Colorado - the first commune ostensibly - is also represented in a section.  There is even complex art describing the democratization of education in Free Universities at that time, and the concurrent growth of auto-didacticism. 

The direct political content of the show is very thin, as would be expected from a show set up by architects and engineers. It consists of posters by the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas**; anti-war posters produced by members of Berkeley’s art department; social-justice posters done by a radical Catholic nun.  There is one large picture from a march on the Pentagon, where activists carried Viet Cong flags and got into the Pentagon.  There are also panels on the Diggers, an anarchist collective in San Francisco named after the original ‘leveler’ Diggers of the U.K.  There is little about the feminist movement; nothing about cultural festivals like Woodstock; the cooperative movement in the cities; vegetarianism; jeans; hippie writers, but then this cultural movement was so broad one show cannot contain it.

20-30 Million Strong - We are not afraid. BPP/Douglas
What is significant here is that the cultural ferment of the hippie movement would not have been possible without the political ferment in the U.S. over Jim Crow and Vietnam.  It basically loosened the control of the dominant culture.  Every society in the world had their issues during that time too, as the explosions in France, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, Japan, Italy and other countries proved, giving birth to hippie movements there.  The hippie movement itself was forward-thinking to such an extent that now many ‘way out ideas’ of that time are givens.  Concern for the planet, organic food, rock music, festivals, weed, a peace movement, a black-rights movement, environmentalism, recycling, etc. – all are continuing mass concerns, though still denounced by the troglodyte right as ‘hippie’ craziness. 

But ultimately this search for ‘utopia’ had conflicting byproducts.  It produced more democratic cultural forms, but also a new boost to capitalist productivity in the form of the personal computer technological revolution and new ideas for capitalist expansion that fit reality better.  For instance, North Face was at one time a tiny hippie outdoors store in North Beach, and is now a world-wide winter clothing behemoth.  Vancouver shoe outfits like John Fluevog were inspired by hippie naturalism.  Large capitalist chains are adopting organic standards.  Solar and wind businesses are becoming dominant over carbon-producing technologies like coal.  Recycling is a normal part of the production cycle.  Bicycling is growing and actually providing more tourist income in some states than tourists in cars.  Local food and farmers markets are returning.  In this case the past IS prologue to the present and the future.

There was a local panel hosted by the Walker of people discussing hippie developments in Minneapolis during this period, but I have no information on how that went.  Mayday Books itself in 1975 grew out of the political/cultural ferment of that time as part of the co-operative movement.  Some people call us 'throwbacks.'  We prefer to think that we are still ahead of our time. 

**Emory Douglas will be talking at Penumbra Theater on December 14th at 5:30 PM about his cultural work for the Black Panther Party.  

A prior review on the Walker's Frida Kahlo show is below. Reviews on other art issues like the Tate Modern and art in London, Banksy and "9.5 Thesis on Art & Class" are also below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
November 29, 2015

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