Times of political and social turbulence often foster innovative and creative forms of expression. That was undoubtedly true during the years from 1964 to 1974, the period covered by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s notable new exhibit, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia.
The resistance to the buildup of the Vietnam War and the easy availability of mind-altering drugs, glamorized by early counterculture icons such as Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, makes 1964 an apt starting point for the show, while the oil embargo and Nixon’s resignation in 1974 is an appropriate end date. During those years, the spirit of idealism, mind-expansion, political resistance, new technologies, and electrifying music strongly shaped art, architecture and design, and affected society as a whole. The influence of that period resonates soundly today.
While reducing the era to objects is a tough assignment, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia effectively displays about 400 well-researched examples, including installations, photographs, fiber art, books, magazines, posters, film and furniture, with about 80 images augmenting the show in Berkeley (it was originally curated by the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis). Efforts have been made to present mixed media from various countries and to include the full range of the artistic and technological efforts of the era. It’s a diverse collection and some of the choices seem a bit obscure, albeit intriguing.
Of particular note are: Ira Cohen’s 1968 color photograph of Jimmy Hendrix’s reflections in a Mylar chamber (above); the 1973 Community Memory Terminal, billed as the first public computerized bulletin board system; J.B. Blunk’s 1965 carved redwood furniture; many psychedelic rock posters; Gorilla Graphics and Kamikaze Design’s powerful anti-war posters; the room-sized Knowledge Box in which visitors are surrounded on three sides by sound and images beamed from 24 slide projectors; and of course, a geodesic dome. The Berkeley pieces include memorabilia of The Diggers, The Cockettes and the 1969 to 1971 Alcatraz occupation.
In addition to numerous public programs, the museum presentation is accompanied by Hippie Modernism: Cinema and Counterculture, 1964 –1974, an exciting four-month film series at BAMPFA’s 232-seat Barbara Osher Theater. The series, which will run through May 2017, includes documentaries, experimental works, and iconic feature films that explore the social, political, and aesthetic interests of the era. Highlights include BAMPFA’s newly completed restoration of Steven Arnold’s Luminous Procuress, Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, Peter Watkins’s Punishment Park and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Same-day admission to the museum is free with a movie ticket.
And don’t forget to try the cool new augmented reality app, Free the Love (available now on iOS and shortly on Android) created in conjunction with the exhibit by Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Adobe. The app provides a Love Tour of the Bay Area and allows users to release virtual Love Balloons with personal messages.
The word “hippie,” apparently coined by the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, was intended to be derogatory, but it is positively embraced as part of the title of this exhibit. Those who remember their hippie days will experience a bit of nostalgia when viewing the show, while others will receive an education than is distinctly more complex, imaginative and nuanced than the Hollywood version of the era.