A tremendous social and political consciousness erupted in the '60s and people felt more than anything else that they could effect changes in their
environment - make the world a better, fairer, cleaner, healthier place - through their individual actions.
Pat Olmstead, historian, as quoted in The Western Queens Gazette, August 5 1999
After the "1968 Revolution" of students' and young people's attitudes, there is now a well-established "underground" or society "alternative" to
traditional cultural values.
This is particularly true amongst serious avant-garde artists who are extending the traditional fields of the visual arts...in ways which are neither commercial nor catered
for by the existing establishment(s).
Barbara Reise, in her report Artstra Information Ltd., written in support of a funding application, 1976
Love and peace, Beatle-mania, flower power, long hair and short skirts were not just about fashion, but were very visible signs of a fundamental revolution taking place in society.
Young people (and the sixties were a culture of youth, as the post-war baby boom generation came of age) were, in their clothes, music, and opinions, reacting to the conservatism
of the previous generation, and questioning the political and social structures by which that generation had lived.
If the 1950s were about conservatism and maintaining the status quo, the 1960s were about social unrest and political upheaval.
Peace activism, civil rights, social equality, women's and gay liberation defined the culture of the 1960s and 1970s.
It is against this revolutionary backdrop that the art and art scene of the 1960s and 1970s should be viewed.
Not only was there was a socio-political thrust to the content of much conceptual art, but the radical spirit of the age is very apparent in the challenge to the fundamental structure
of the art world.
As well as questioning the stylistic concerns of the earlier generation, artists in the sixties questioned the very framework within which art was made, exhibited and viewed.
The introduction to the catalogue for Robert Morris' 1971 Tate exhibition, describes his work as:
art that goes beyond making, selling, collecting and looking-at kind of art, and proposes a new role for the artist in relation to society.
This can equally be applied to much of the art produced in the mid 1960s and 1970s, the decades of revolution.
Art without white walls
Dissatisfied with existing structures for making and exhibiting art, artists began instead to create an alternative scene in which they determined their own activities and roles,
and were not reliant on the commercial galleries for presentation of their work, or traditional academic institutions for dissemination of their ideas.
This lead to a blurring of the boundaries between the art world and the everyday as artists began to explore art forms that did not rely on a traditional gallery space for it to be
seen, such as performance, land art, video art and book art.
For example artists Hamish Fulton and Richard Long
made work based on long distance walks (which sometimes lasted several weeks), recording their physical and emotional experiences in photographs or texts.
Artists also used non-commercial venues such as artist run spaces, or rejected dedicated art spaces altogether, and made use of bars, living spaces or the street itself to show
In COUM's listing of events and performances between 1970 and 1974, a shopping centre, a jazz club and an inn appear among the venues.
Daniel Buren in his private view card These are visible, alternate, vertical... lists the bus stops in Los Angeles at which his work was on view.
The rich array of invitations to exhibitions and talks, and brochures outlining off-beat art projects that Barbara Reise collected, reflect a vibrant and exciting alternative art scene.
As the emphasis on much of the art being created was on 'the idea', widespread transmission of new developments was more readily achievable than for object based work.
Proliferation of written material about art such as art magazines, bulletins, and newsletters are very much a feature of the scene, and 'information' became a buzz word
(Barbara Reise's initial title for her magazine was Info/arts).
This interest in disseminating new information about art inevitably also created a very social scene, as artists, critics, and gallerists met to discuss new projects and ideas.
The correspondence in Reise's archive between her and her artist friends, are full of references to social gatherings:
within 5 minutes [of returning to New York, Reise] was 'phoned by Siegelaub & that started a scene which in 24 hours of NY Artworld,
culminated in one of those tribal-dinners-for-50 in a SoHo loft at New Years.
Letter to Martin Maloney, 18th January 1971
This sharing of ideas extended beyond national boundaries.
Although the development of art movements has always involved cross-fertilisation of ideas between artists of different nationalities, the extent to which artists travelled
internationally, exhibiting their work and meeting like-minded artists in the sixties and seventies, was unprecedented.
This letter written by John Baldessari about a trip to Europe reflects the busy international schedule (and social schedule!) that many artists had.