The Royal Academy has been showing how artists in 1930’s America responded to the rapid economic and social change of that decade. The British Museum, with “American Dream: Pop to the Present” continues the story from the 1960’s, showing the artistic innovations and developments which reflected the prosperity and optimism in American society at the time, along with its tensions, and stuttered into the 20th century with austerity following the financial crash of 2008 while Americans wait and see what a Trump presidency brings.
Over the last decade, the British Museum has been building up an impressive collection of modern American prints, from which this exhibition is drawn, supplemented by major loans from other galleries and private collectors.
Perhaps the cycle of work is best represented by two works by Ed Rushka whose iconic “Standard Station” from 1966 celebrates the American love of vehicles and gasoline and the same image “Ghost Station” from 2011 where the lights are out and the dream has faded into a white ghostly image. To be optimistic, this might also act as a blank canvas on which to plan the future.
The last 50 years have seen huge changes in America with Kennedy’s assassination, space exploration, the war in Vietnam, AIDS and race and feminism movements. American artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Kara Walker and Julie Mehretu responded this change, and adopted printmaking alongside their other painting and sculpture, in part reflecting advertising techniques of the age, but also enabling more works to reach a wider audience, while they could also explore the virtuosity of printmaking techniques.
Artists on show also include those who moved across the pond to share the American dream including David Hockney from England and Josef Albers from Germany.
This exhibition shows the British Museum’s outstanding collection of modern and contemporary American prints for the first time and hopefully we will see more such exhibitions in the future. The exhibition is also accompanied by what must be one of the best-value catalogues on modern American art, at only £15 for the paperback version. Excellent value, especially when compared to the slimline catalogue for the Selfie Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery which is the same price.
(Illustrations are copyright)