The utopian vision of the 1960s is the subject of a new exhibition
The legacy of California’s counterculture is so much more than just Burning Man and bongs.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a nexus of artistic and social movements were searching for new forms of expression. Anti-war protests raged, hippies made love, artists and architects broke the molds of convention. Radical experiments — in the studio and in the streets — were challenging traditionally held beliefs about communal living, ecological awareness, gender, and politics. And American form was undergoing a paradigm shift, too, from midcentury austerity to acid-trip chic. Art and design would never be the same. Nor would the ways we communicate: personal computing and the World Wide Web both trace their origins to LSD-inspired revelations of human connectivity in a pre-silicon Santa Clara Valley.
In the 1910s, the horrors of the First World War had pushed disillusioned creatives to invent new ‘modernist’ modes of expression. Fifty years later, Vietnam, civil rights, and their political backlash had radical thinkers again refusing to get in line. Frustrated hippies grew their hair and took psychotropic drugs to expand their minds beyond the rigidity of a society seen as stagnant in fast moving times. We all know well the profound musical heritage of this period. But the influence of countercultural aesthetics on the graphic design and architecture of the era is far less recognized, even as its impact continues to ripple some half a century on.
A new exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, celebrates the legacy of the free love era on art, design, and activism a half-century from its 1967 inception. Works in the show range from photography and film to architecture and graphic design. But running through them all is a shared commitment to a new kind of consciousness fomenting, inextricably, alongside that period’s charged political climate.
Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia is on view at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) through May 21, 2017.
“Hippies were modern not because they believed that the world could be different than it was, but because they made that difference real.”
— Lawrence Rinder, BAMFA director