The 1960s were a period of tumultuous political and social change. From the Vietnam War and the building of the Berlin Wall, to the assassination of major political leaders, to youth rebellion and the counter-culture, the restless energy of the time provided rich ground for experimentation in art and design.
Organized thematically, one section explores the influence of Pop Art in everyday objects. Highlights include Roy Lichtenstein’s mass-produced set of dishes Dinner Service (designed 1966), the original bean bag chair (1968), and Robert Indiana’s print titled Love Cross (1968)—a seemingly banal image that carries religious and political undertones, perhaps emblematic of a quintessentially 1960s idealism.
Other works by artists associated with Op and Pop Art illustrate the creative exchange across artistic media during the period. In the painting Hot Blocks by Edna Andrade, large squares appear to move in tonal contrasts of black, white, and gray, forming optical illusions that suggest the psychology of perception popular at the time. Fashion trends, ranging from paper dresses to body jewelry, are on view with other mixed media.
Design developments in space and commercial air travel permeated consumer culture during the decade, and industrial designer Eero Saarinen was among the individuals who gave artistic shape to the Jet Age. Photos of his design for the original terminal of the Trans World Airlines Flight Center (1962) at John F. Kennedy International Airport, show his signature wing-shaped, futuristic architectural design. Sue Palmer’s printed textile Space Walk (1969) conveys the excitement around intergalactic travel, while futuristic visions of comfortable living in space are conveyed in objects such as the “Djinn” Double Arm Sofa (designed 1962–63). Designed by Olivier Mourgue, it was instantly famous after becoming part of the set design for Stanley Kubrick’s epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968.
The survey also addresses the extraordinary political turbulence of the era, with such works as William Nelson Copley’s Flag of the United States (around 1967), photographs of Martin Luther King Jr.’s televised funeral in 1968, and Andy Warhol’s Birmingham Race Riot (1964). Video screens present archival footage of the moon walk, Woodstock, and anti-war and civil rights protests. Also included is Jacob Lawrence’s painting Taboo (1963), which depicts two interracial couples and symbolizes the historic legal battle of Loving v. Virginia in the fight to legalize interracial marriage.
The decade is also represented musically through record covers, some of which have been lent from the personal collections of Museum staff. Psychedelic covers such as Axis: Bold as Love, by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967); Disraeli Gears, by Cream (1967); Let It Bleed, by the Rolling Stones (1969); and Space Oddity, by David Bowie (1969) are on display.
Exhibition organizer Juliana Rowen Barton, Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow, said: “The 1960s reshaped American life and represented an extraordinary moment in which the arts proliferated through the culture, capturing its exuberance, the horrors of war and civil strife, as well as the myth of progress. These artists take us back in a kind of time travel. At the same time, they offer us, perhaps, refreshing ways to reflect upon our own time with new eyes.”
Juliana Rowen Barton, Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow with Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger, The J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. Family Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700