"All in the Family" and Alfred Leslie: A conversation with curator Andrea Douglas

by Andrew Cedermark, February 21st 08:17am

Guest post by Charlotte Muzzi.

The break-up of the Beatles, the Kent State shootings, the start of the Iran hostage crisis—the '70s was a tumultuous and politically charged decade. The UVA Art Museum’s new exhibit "Excavating New Ground: American Art in the 1970s" opened February 14, and features works by artists immersed in this turmoil. Curator Andrea Douglas discusses the changes in the art world in the 1970s, and her decision to leave the museum for the Jefferson School of African American Heritage.

C-VILLE: The show you curated at the UVA Art Museum, "Excavating New Ground: American Art in the 1970s," consists entirely of art from that decade. Why did you choose to focus on the ‘70s?

Douglas: The museum owns a work by African-American artist Vincent Smith from 1972, which I am intrigued by—so much so I am working on an exhibition about his work from the '70s. Smith’s exuberant handling of paint is in my mind indicative of the time. Although the painting is not in this show, it caused me to want to explore this decade—to think about painting and to think about the kind of openness and experimentation that is the precursor to much of what we see today.

You write that two things happened in the 1970s: Modernism ended, and because of the black-nationalist, women's and student movements, people started paying attention to society's margins. Does the show reflect those changes?

I am not sure this show in and of itself reflects those changes, which is why I have collaged in the clips from "All in the Family"—I don’t think the social moment can be divorced from these works—I think that my point is that with such social disquiet, it is inevitable that the kinds of questions that artists are addressing in their work would result in a multiplicity of approaches. At the time critics saw this “pluralism” as the end of modernism, they did not see it as pivotal. The increase in the number of art programs, the increase in the number of experimental exhibition spaces and artist run co-ops all fueled by a counter-culture were some of the catalysts to the imagery that we see in the show.

You also write that these artists turned the past for inspiration. How do artists draw on historical sources while creating art that is free of the biases of the period that inspired it?

The best example of what I am talking about is the work by Bruno Civitico...The way Civitico’s light flattens out the picture plane rather than establishing recessions into depth suggests an engagement with conceptualism. I think that there is a wonderful juxtaposition between Alfred Leslie’s "Dina Cheyette" and John De Andrea’s nudes. The former points to sculpture while investigating painting, while the latter is sculpture whose success is grounded in painting.

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