Between 1962 and 1964 it all happened in New York. Or so it might seem. In a historical period marked by the Cuban missile crisis, the great march in Washington and the murder of the President of the United States John F. Kennedy, the city was a cultural laboratory in which art, cinema, theater, dance and performance were rapidly evolving until they spilled out of the austere confines of modernism.
The large format photo book New York 1962-1964 (published by Skira) is linked to the last curatorial project left unfinished by the Genoese art critic Germano Celant (1940-2020): an exhibition at the Jewish museum in New York dedicated to those three fundamental years with works, among others, by Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Louise Nevelson.
These were the years in which the taste of collectors and gallery owners moved from abstract expressionism to what was beginning to be called, with a term imported from the United Kingdom, pop art. In New York it was still called “new art” and it was something protean and magmatic, to which it was not possible to give precise connotations. It was a playful and terrible art at the same time, as naive as it was sophisticated, which drew from the imagery of advertising, TV and comics.
The book itself is a pop artifact, with a layout reminiscent of illustrated magazines of the time such as Life and Look and alternates large color reproductions of works with historical images in black and white, in a flow of narration in images and words that reflects the scandalous and irreverent noise of New York art of those years. They flow under the eyes, with a very fast editing from video clips in fast forwardthe faces of Marilyn Monroe (who killed herself in 1964), James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, Claes Oldenburg’s burgers dripping with color, Jasper Johns’ still material painting, the Marilyns on gold background, hieratic like Byzantine icons by Andy Warhol, the frames of Flaming creaturesJack Smith’s scandalous underground movie and the giant lighted billboards advertising the Cleopatra di Mankiewicz con Liz Taylor.
High culture and low culture, mainstream and underground, rich collectors and toxic prostitutes, strippers and dancers of the company of Merce Cunningham with costumes designed by Robert Rauschenberg: a teeming, hyperkinetic humanity, addicted to speed, alcohol and hallucinogens who, in three years, has forged the material of which the contemporary is still made today.