“Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980:” A Lecture by Metropolitan Museum of Art Curator Kelly Baum on February 8

Kelly Baum, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Visitors to the The Met Breuer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s venue for modern and contemporary art exhibitions, recently encountered a ladder in the galleries that was studded with bulbous protrusions. Women’s shoes glued to the steps seemed to suggest an ascent not into the spiritual realm of art contemplation, but into a world of excessive, primordial physicality. In another gallery, a video loop on an old-fashioned TV recorded the endlessly repeated operations of a pocket calculator while a voiceover announced “times seven divided by eight, times seven divided by eight…,” hypnotizing the audience. A third gallery featured projections of the globe onto differing geometric shapes such as the cube or doughnut, stretching the outlines of the continents almost beyond recognition. And how about the meticulously crafted display case that seemed to contain square-shaped cuts of rotting meat—the opposite of timeless artifacts one would expect in a world-class museum?

These artworks by Yayoi Kusama, Tony Conrad, Agnes Denes, and Paul Thek were all part of the exhibition Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980, an eye-opening and mind-bending survey of a period of art-making that seems to defy categorization. On February 8, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Kelly Baum will talk at Bowdoin about the new interpretations she advances with this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue. Her ideas are being widely discussed and are already providing inspiration to curators near and far, including here at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. We are currently presenting art from this period in the exhibition Looking Anew: Art and Estrangement, 1900–2000. Upcoming spring exhibitions, such as Second Sight: The Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art and Richard Pousette-Dart: Painting/ Light/ Space, will zoom in on artistic positions within Kelly Baum’s time-frame and will give further opportunity to test her thesis.

As Kelly Baum writes in her introductory essay, “Think Crazy: The Art and History of Delirium”, “in the 1960s and 1970s, especially, artists did all manner of strange things to unfamiliar materials. They also challenged good form, disobeyed the rules of grammar, performed bizarre tasks for the camera, indulged in excessive repetition, destabilized space and perception, and generally embraced all things ludicrous, nonsensical, and eccentric.” Why were “delirious forms of art” so appealing at the time? Baum investigates historic circumstances, philosophical trends, literary models, and political and social activism as possible sources for this fascination with the irrational. Her considerations sharpen her perspective on artistic contributions by famous and lesser known artists, unfurling a panorama that offers new insights for specialists and newcomers alike.

Lecture: Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980

Kelly Baum, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thursday, February 8, 2018 | 4:30 pm | Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center, Bowdoin College

Free and open to the public.

thumb:Photograph of Winslow Homer next to his painting, "The Gulf Stream."