|Jeff Koons, Puppy, 1992 (at Bilbao) - isn't he cute?!|
There was an irony here, one of several that added a fascinating undercurrent to the show. If there is an Art of America it probably isn't the painted canvas but the motion picture, yet Hollywood was presented as one of the more amusing components of the incomprehensible, unserious sprawl of Los Angeles - a city in which (as AGD rightly pointed out) the buildings themselves are works of art. They are also, he might have added, covered in art, as LA's vast expanses of cement have attracted mural painters for decades.
|Edward Hopper, Night Hawks, 1942|
In general he proved adept at combining the broad sweep - The Depression, The Sixties - with detailed examination of particular artworks. I was absolutely gripped by his discussion of 'White Flag', Jasper Johns' painting of 1955, which was nicely set in the context of the McCarthy Era. Similarly, his detailed examination of Edward Hopper's legendary 'Night Hawks' allowed us to contemplate the picture as we might in a gallery, with an intelligent guide. We were introduced to Norman Rockwell, one of the most genuinely popular American painters of the last century, and given new insight into the political pressures that influenced the way he painted African-Americans.
|Jasper Johns, White Flag, 1955|
Inevitably, given the scale of the operation, there were artists who perhaps should have been included but weren't. Having spent a lot of time in New Mexico, I was hoping for a glimpse of Georgia O'Keeffe, who was both brilliantly original AND popular. The lack of any detailed examination of her work was part of a wider problem: although the series talked a lot about the diversity of American culture, the artists featured were not especially diverse. With the odd exception (eg Nan Goldin), most were white men. Was the Harlem Renaissance discussed (I would double-check but Part 2 no longer available)? Were we introduced to Jackson Pollock's wife, the talented Lee Krasner? Did we see work by Dorothea Lange or Diane Arbus?
|Andy Warhol - anyone for soup?|
Anyway, we at least had the treat of Mr Graham-Dixon interviewing one of my favourite artistic mavericks, Jeff Koons. I was a big fan of the King of Kitsch back when his giant floral Westie seemed a wonderful riposte to the solemnity of the Josef Beuys school. Like Ed Burra, Koons is a very dangerous artist to take seriously and AGD was wonderfully circumspect, allowing Koons to chirp cheerfully about the knick-knacks and mass-produced pictures of his childhood while a gang of workers put the finishing touches to a series of massive paintings.
|Georgia on my mind...|
A curious journey then, from the first drawings of Native Americans to billboard-sized paintings of inflatable dolphins. Great fun to watch, and extremely informative, although I would add a proviso: this was (for the most part) liberal, secular, urban America - intellectual, doubting & ironic. Much of the country is, by contrast, conservative and devout; while the sculptor at the end was busy making a clever piece depicting man's evolution, untold numbers of schoolchildren are being taught Creationism - not as religious doctrine but as science.