Friday, August 13, 2010

It was a Cold War -- but the art was hot!

A nuke explodes in April 1953 at the Nevada Test Site. Looks like a painting, doesn't it?

As the Cold War recedes into the past, it's tempting to be nostalgic. Gee, the planet didn't go up is smoke, as it did with the Doomsday Device in "Dr. Strangelove" or in dozens of sci-fi books. The Russkis are sort of our friends now, fellow travelers in the world of unbridled capitalism and swarthy mob bosses. Those of us on the far side of the Iron Curtain did have some good times, though. We had hula-hoops and rock'n'roll and PCs and moon walks (the real kind) all happening during those halcyon years. Art, too. Lots and lots of art.

The University of Wyoming Art Museum launches an exhibit of Cold War art on Aug. 21:

"Cold War in America: Works from the 1950s - 1970s, Selections from the Art Museum Collection" opens to the public Saturday, Aug. 21, at the University of Wyoming Art Museum. A free public reception for all the fall exhibitions is scheduled at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17.

The end of World War II in 1945 marked the beginning of a new conflict, the Cold War. This ongoing state of political conflict, military tension and economic competition continued primarily between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Abstract expressionism, color field painting, pop art and minimalism all came of age during the Cold War period, representing a radically new engagement with materials and space, and redefining the role and purpose of art.

Abstract expressionist artists, such as Willem de Kooning and James Brooks, who based their works on the pure expression of ideas relating to the spiritual, the unconscious and the mind, will be included.

Color field painting is characterized by large fields of flat, solid color creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. It will be represented by the work of artists such as Robert Motherwell and Adolph Gottlieb.

Pop art in the United States, considered a reaction to abstract expressionism, will be represented by artists Alice Neel, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Lee Krasner and Larry Rivers.

For more information on exhibitions and programs, call the UW Art Museum at (307) 766-6622 or visit the museum's Web page at or blog at
The museum has a great blog that's updated regularly. Great visuals, too, as you'd expect.

Wikipedia lists the era of the Cold War as 1947-1991. The U.S. military recognizes Cold War veterans as those serving between September 1945 and December 1991. Other sources say it began in 1948, with the Berlin Airlift.

No matter when it started, the end came with the dissolution of the Soviet empire. I wasn't born until 1950, but by then the struggle was going full force. The Korean War had started earlier in the year, pitting the North Korean and Chinese Communists on one side and South Korea, the U.S. and various allies on the other. North Koreans live in the Stone Age while South Koreans drive KIAs and eat sushi. The ChiComs are all capitalists now.

BTW, North and South Korea are still fighting.

The Cold War is becoming an easy way to mark an era. Historians seem to like dealing with handy chunks of time, such as World War II or the sixties. But a span of 44 (or 46) years seems unwieldy, as if you were talking about the the Ice Age or the Jurassic Era. For now, historians like their Cold War subjects in smaller bites. But one day, it will seem as remote as The Day the Dinosaurs got Clobbered by the Comet.

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