Networks, Media & Communication

Ed Ruscha, Hurting the Word Radio I, 1964 - © The Menil Collection, Houston

Ed Ruscha, Hurting the Word Radio I, 1964 - © The Menil Collection, Houston

At its conclusion, Postwar shifts the understanding of art engaged with mass culture away from the usual focus on consumer goods and the signs, symbols, and logos that advertised them, and instead toward the circulation, distribution, and communication of those signs via technology and broadcast networks. Certainly some artists focused on the power of representation. By means of narrative figuration, artist Hervé Telemaque’s My Darling Clementine (1963) scrutinizes widespread racial stereotypes. Politically oriented critiques more often emphasized a newer capitalism, the cocacolonization that was now not only American-dominated but blatantly global in extent, as in Jirō Takamatsu’s Strings in Bottles (1963) and León Ferrari’s The Western-Christian Civilization (1965). Underlying this extension was the global distribution and circulation of information, invoked in the work of Derek Boshier, Thadeusz Kantor, and Gerhard Rühm that took the airmail letter as its subject.

Communication also underlay the systems theories of cybernetics that appealed to an international array of artists rooted in a variety of aesthetic and political orientations. It had particular appeal for artists seeking affinities across national boundaries: the New Tendencies exhibition featured works by twenty-nine artists from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia. This new optical and kinetic art, like that of Mohammed Melehi, sought to transmit information on a fundamental, physiological wavelength transcending the cultural specifics of language. Similarly, communication drew artists to new technologies. The British artists in the Independent Group, particularly John McHale, were oriented toward popular culture’s technological, even futuristic aspects, from transistors to robots. Fluxus and other artists — including Lucio Fontana, Otto Götz, and Nam June Paik — experimented with the new medium of broadcast television, aspiring to make art that not only took part in the latest electronic technologies, but could also communicate to an audience beyond the art galleries themselves. All these artists sought an art adequate to a world conceived as a single integrated system or organism: in this way, the paradigm that dawned in the present exhibition’s introduction becomes conscious and fully developed in its conclusion.

There is today a clear connection between the systems theories of such figures as György Kepes, Norbert Weiner, and Marshall McLuhan, and the vision of an interconnected world, one in which relations of information and capital supersede national identities. The concluding section of Postwar, with its focus on communication and circulation, conflict and control, serves as a bookend to the show’s beginning with the technical invention, epistemological shift, and political reordering emblematized by the atomic bomb. Theories of feedback and communication that emerged from the science of the atomic bomb drove the restructuring of cities around the world, as did the wars in Indochina. And so the end of Postwar looks both backward and forward, to the next episode in this ambitious cycle of exhibitions: Post-colonialism.

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