Tag Archives: 1960s


1 Mar


I was recently reminded by this post at Open Culture that Abstract Expressionist painting and exponents of it such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock got a big (though covert) push from the CIA, who secretly organised a number of influential exhibitions including MoMA’s New American Painting. It was all an attempt to depict America internationally as a country with a sophisticated culture borne of a fully functioning democracy.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… oh… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Wait, wait… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Sorry about that. Most Americans hated Abstract Expressionism, and they still do. Not to mention the fact that US foreign and domestic policies in the 1960s moved on to brainwashing, drugging, sabotaging and sometimes just straight up murdering (or having murdered) anyone who stood in the way of their global agenda. But it’s interesting to think about this CIA plot to splatterwash the USA’s international reputation as a project halfway between the naked colonialism of international World Fairs or the Giardini in Venice and the modern era of so-called “soft power” that makes governments like the UK’s or Japan’s trumpet their national cultural industries even while they perversely take an ideological wrecking ball to the very institutions, employment and educational systems that make art and being an artist viable. What, you thought it was because they recognised the value of art and artists?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha, etc.

It’s all about the soft power.

You may also like to speculate as to other examples of otherwise inexplicably successful artists or artistic movements that seem with hindsight more likely to be psy ops or vehicles for international spookery.



18 Jan

By Martin J. Walker, 1968.

Just like half the salaried people who work in arts organisations, Career Suicide has been on leave since the start of December “because it’s nearly Christmas” and has not resumed normal service until well into January because “we’ve been snowed under with work since we came back into the office”. OR SOMETHING. More soon, though.

The print above was made by Martin J. Walker in 1968, when Hornsey College of Art (later part of Middlesex Polytechnic, then Middlesex University) was occupied by students after a dispute about Student Union funds lead to an opportunity for the students to express a more general dissatisfaction with their art education. Plus ça change, etc. For some reason a reproduction of it is currently available to buy from the Victoria & Albert museum in London.

PS: Really… don’t let them.


18 Mar


Chatterton 1856 by Henry Wallis 1830-1916

“It must be understood that as long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people… The artist must cast off the last rags of romanticism and become active as a man among men*, well up in present day techniques, materials and working methods.”

* Obviously this applies to women as well, and I don’t endorse automatic 1960s sexism.

“When a lot of money comes along before culture arrives, we get the phenomenon of the gold telephone.”


“A thing is not beautiful because it is beautiful, as the frog said to the she-frog, it is beautiful because one likes it.”


16 Apr

“I kind of like this one, Bob. Leave it.”

“Barbed wire is the medium of the future, Mrs. Russelmeier… but that is no way to make a banana.” The Joker, 1966.

Two 1966 episodes of the Batman TV series– itself a masterpiece of Pop Art and camp– overtly call out to Pop Art and the (then) contemporary abstract expressionists with Pop Goes The Joker/Flop Goes The Joker, in which the eponymous lunatic vandalises an art gallery. When one of the artists whose works have been permanently wrecked with splashes of paint actually likes it and appreciates that their value’s been increased (“All I could ever draw was stupid looking farm boys”– a sly but spot-on dig at Norman Rockwell), the Joker wastes no time in getting himself into Gotham City’s art world. He starts by winning an art competition against the likes of Jackson Potluck, Pablo Pinkus, and a paint flinging monkey. After an all-too-accurate satirical  exhibition of what would generally be referred to as their “practice”, the Joker paints the prizewinning artwork; a tiny mauve dot on a blank canvas. One of the judges, however, notes that “I kind of like what the monkey did…”

In fact both episodes are loaded with great quips or mordant observations about the general perception of contemporary art and artists. Some of them still strike a nerve, especially Joker’s fraudulent art school (Joker: “Sorry, millionaires only, please.” Millionaire Bruce Wayne, after being instantly accepted: “Aren’t you going to give me a test to see if I have any talent?”), the crit session where anything can be justified and Bruce is castigated for earnestly sculpting fruit, and the art dealer surreptitiously upping the price tag of a painting by $2500 when Alfred expresses an interest on behalf of the millionaire Bruce Wayne.


As a bonus, both episodes are also packed with assistants in smocks and berets, and they get beaten up by Batman and Robin.  They’re generally just daft and fun to watch, as well. You remember fun, don’t you? It’s the thing that was completely forbidden and absent in Christopher Nolan’s pompous, pretentious iterations of Batman recently. “Why so serious?” indeed. Joker could be addressing Nolan and Christian Bale directly when he sums up the real appeal of Batman in Pop… “What can you expect from a man who appears in public in such a ridiculous outfit?” You can go dark with Batman and the Joker– Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison’s writing for these characters effectively if somewhat inadvertently provoked the whole dark and gritty superhero orthodoxy of the past twenty years, almost on their own– but the pair remain essentially adolescent power fantasies and not realistic as human beings, despite or perhaps even because of their psychological and narrative potency.

Tim Burton’s brief recapitulation of Pop Goes The Joker, in the first of the 80s/90s cycle of Batman films, is clearly somewhat darker even though it still features comedy berets. And it’s inexplicably soundtracked by an incongruous, mediocre Prince song that has nothing to do with anything, but let’s ignore that for now. Joker and his cronies once again vandalise an art gallery. This time Degas and Rembrandt, among others, get a Joker détournement intervention. The Flugelheim Museum’s collection of Classical sculptures is smashed, or they get green hair and red lipstick. Only Francis Bacon is to Joker’s taste. The film’s an absolute bloody mess in almost every way except for its stunning techno-gothic-deco production design, but again there are a few sharply observed little details. Immediately following the destruction of the Flugelheim’s art works– and after gassing most of its patrons, possibly fatally– the Joker meets with photographer/journalist/Kim Basinger/eye candy/whatever Vicky Vale. I’ve always loved the way Jack Nicholson goes through her portfolio of trendy stuff, barely looking at any of it and dismissing every page with, “crap, crap, crap, crap…”; I’ve often been tempted to do the same with portfolios and in art galleries. Eventually he finds some photos of murder victims that he approves of. Fortunately I’ve never done that with somebody’s portfolio.


Nicholson’s Joker also has a bit where he portrays himself as a kind of outsider artist who’s just prepared to go that little bit further and mutilate or kill his public if necessary. “I make art until somebody dies.” This ties in nicely with the deranged intensity and strange obsessions of some real world artists, and with the Joker’s own fascinating imaginary psychology as a man who doesn’t think there’s any such thing as a joke that’s gone too far.

Under the break you can watch both episodes in full, and a clip of the Joker obviously having a profound influence upon the young Banksy at the Flugelheim:

UPDATE: What a shame, all the videos are gone due to what YouTube calls “copyright claims”, or what I call Prince and Fox being absolute twats.

Continue reading


6 Apr

Even the “real” Andy Warhol was a fictional character, a fastidiously maintained Pop Art costume and distancing apparatus worn throughout his adult life by the lad from Pittsburgh formerly known to his Slovakian parents as Andrej Varhola Jr. After he was nearly shot to death by Valerie Solanas in 1968 it was almost as if the last vestiges of any real person really had died that day; all that remained was the character. On the rare occasions when he spoke of it at all, Warhol more or less admitted this was the case. He sometimes spoke of seeing himself as if he were a character on television.

Within a few years of his death in 1987 Andy Warhol started to appear as a character in numerous films and TV shows, including some (Austin Powers and Watchmen, for example) where he amounts to not much more than a kind of set dressing, a shorthand way of placing the action in trendy New York in the 1960s. IMDB lists a startling thirty appearances of the character since 1991. This means there were some years where Warhol was a character in several films simultaneously. I’m almost certain there are others that aren’t yet listed on IMDB or never would be because they’re outside its remit: TV dramas or feature films from non-Anglophone countries, adverts, comedy shows, pop videos, and so on.

Please enjoy this small gallery of Andys. I haven’t seen I Shot Andy Warhol for years though I seem to recall it being fairly good, but some of these films are bloody atrocious. Most of the ones I haven’t seen look pretty bad as well. I noticed that he’s frequently depicted with his work; this is true in five of the eight stills shown on this page alone. Perhaps it’s an unconscious realisation that the character of the real-world Andy Warhol himself was also in some sense as much a work of art, and of artifice, as his famous soup cans or his screenprints of Marilyn.


(Far too) animated Andy Warhol (voice by Hank Azaria) in The Simpsons, 1999.


Jared Harris as Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol, 1996.


David Bowie as Andy Warhol, Basquiat, 1996. To quote Andy Warhol in many of his interviews: “Um… No.”


Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol, Factory Girl, 2006.


Bill Hader as Andy Warhol, Men in Black 3, 2012. I did warn you that some of these films were shit.


Andy Warhol (voice by David Herman) in Futurama, 2011, talking to Zoidberg in a cravat and wig.


Bob Swain as Andy Warhol, Death Becomes Her, 1992. With Zoidberg in a wig again, sorry I mean Marilyn Monroe. I see what you did there, director of Death Becomes Her.


Greg Travis as Andy Warhol, Watchmen, 2009. Watchmen Pop Art in the background.

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