‘The American Dream: pop to the present’ is now open at the British Museum

America. Land of the free. Home of the brave…

The American Dream: pop to the present, the UK’s first major exhibition to chart modern and contemporary American printmaking, is now open at the British Museum, running through to 18 June, 2017.

Sponsored by Morgan Stanley and supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, The American Dream: pop to the present will explore the creativity of a medium that flourished through some of the most dynamic and turbulent years in US history and that accompanied a period when its wealth, power and cultural influence had never been greater.

From JFK’s assassination, Apollo 11 and Vietnam to the AIDS crisis, racism and gender politics, the exhibition explores the changing times, American artists have produced prints unprecedented in their scale and ambition.

The exhibition will include important loans from institutions such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC as well as works drawn from the British Museum’s extensive collection of prints.

Jasper Johns (b. 1930), Flags I. Colour screenprint, 1973. Gift of Johanna and Leslie Garfield, on loan from the American Friends of the British Museum. © Jasper Johns/VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2016. © Tom Powel Imaging.

Using more than 200 works by 70 artists, the exhibition will trace the creative momentum of American art over the past six decades – from the moment pop art burst onto the New York and West Coast scenes in the early 1960s, through the rise of minimalism, conceptual art and photorealism in the 1970s, to the practices of living artists working today.

Many of America’s greatest artists will feature, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, Louise Bourgeois, Kara Walker and Andy Warhol, all of whom engaged with printmaking to create some of the most enduring images of recent years.

Wayne Thiebaud (b.1920), Gumball Machine. Colour linocut, 1970. © Wayne Thiebaud/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016.

The exhibition will explore the innovative techniques and unprecedented scale, boldness and ambition that made American printmaking an ideal expression of the USA’s power and influence, as well as how the medium addressed contemporary social issues such as race, AIDS, and feminism.

Large prints designed to be seen en masse, such as Warhol’s Marilyn, the minimalist linear inflections of the sculptor Donald Judd or the monumental woodcut Stowage by the African American Willie Cole on the legacy of slavery, will be shown alongside those on a smaller, more intimate scale, including artists’ books by Ed Ruscha, Ida Applebroog and others.

Some American artists made prints that related closely to their work in other media, and this crossover will be shown in works such as Andy Warhol’s Little Electric Chair painting alongside his series of ten screenprints of the same subject and Claes Oldenburg’s sculpture of the Three-Way Plug juxtaposed with his Floating Three-Way Plug etching.

May Stevens (b. 1924), Big Daddy with Hats. Colour screenprint, 1971. © May Stevens. Reproduced by permission of the artist and Mary Ryan Gallery, New York

The confidence and assertiveness of America in the post-war boom years has given way to a gradual disintegration of the American Dream as the very notion of the country’s exceptionalism has been critically questioned by artists. The creative momentum unleashed in the 1960s persists to this day as American artists continue to explore the vital and expressive potential of printmaking as an integral part of their aesthetic, with its ability to reach a broader audience and address wider social and political issues.

Andy Warhol, Jackie II (Jacqueline Kennedy II), from 11 Pop Artists, vol. II, 1965, published 1966, colour screenprint © 2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said:

“The American Dream is an extremely exciting project for the British Museum, highlighting our extraordinary holdings of American prints and drawings. The Museum has been building up this collection of modern and contemporary workssince the hugely successful exhibition The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock in 2008, and we are very grateful to Morgan Stanley and the Terra Foundation for helping us to stage this ambitious show. As a new President enters the White House and another chapter of US history begins, it feels like an apposite moment to consider how artists have reflected America as a nation over 50 tumultuous years.”

For more information on the exhibition, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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