Georgia, Idaho, Washington, and Wisconsin artists responded to Overture Center Galleries’ invitation to answer the question: “How do I view the Sixties today?” Their interpretations are compiled into an exhibit, “The Sixties Revisited,” in the Playhouse Gallery on the lower level of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on view through June 24.
Artists were asked to explore the complex and contentious legacy of the era through an art medium of their choice, including 2-D and 3-D. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, the Civil Rights Movement, “white backlash,” Vietnam, threat of nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, feminism, the environmental movement — nothing was off limits for the artists. The exhibit includes letterpress, paintings, textiles, woodcut, lenticular prints, mixed media sculptures, collage and more, that address the historical realities of the Sixties and its reverberations over the last 50 years.
Some exhibiting artists experienced the 1960s firsthand, whether as adults or children. Others were not born until a decade, or two, or three, later.
Mary Alice Wimmer, of Madison, created her woodcut, “Napalm — No Escape,” in 1967 as a reaction to seeing the horrors on the nightly news.
“The image of the naked girl running and screaming as her village was being destroyed by Napalm is still burned in my brain,” Wimmer said in a press release. “And our country is still at it elsewhere!”
Lewis Koch, of Madison, uses his art to address concerns about war being an endless and constant condition during his lifetime, and the search for peace.
“Growing up as I did in the ’50s and ’60s, it seemed as if war with the Soviets might start at any time,” Koch said. “It was only later in the ’60s that it became apparent that proxy wars were taking place all over the globe, since the end of WWII.”
Pat Kroth, of Verona, explores the violence from handguns and riots, along with war, that has been ongoing since the sixties in “Heart of Darkness” in the exhibit.
“I grew up in Chicago and remember the daily body count not only from Vietnam but from the street violence surrounding us,” said Kroth.
Racial issues began to simmer in Milwaukee when Karin Hanson, now of Fitchburg, was in her 20s. On a hot July summer night in 1967, on a visit to the inner-city home of Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, contemporary of Father Groppi, she ”felt the wave of Dr. King’s influence.”
Pamela Olson, of Madison, uses her art to commemorate lives lost in the war for civil rights in the sixties.
“Coming of age in the ’60s was a time of jubilant liberation as well as deep sorrow,” Olson said. “One of the most heart-breaking events was the tragic murder (of) young civil rights activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. ... I am grateful to have the opportunity to give tribute to their lives and commitment to justice and equality.”
Ryan Laessig, of Milwaukee, said, “This exhibition is needed for today’s society to see what was going on during the ’60s and the influences that the ’60s have on our present artwork. If the ’60s taught me anything it’s that war cannot be won by violence.”
Feminism and women’s health issues are addressed in the exhibit by several artists including Leora Saposnik, of Madison, and ST Rivera, of Seattle, Washington.
“The 1950s feminine ideal was of a housewife whose house was immaculate, and whose hair was perfectly coiffed, cheerily greeting her husband with a cake in hand,” Saposnik said. “ ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ is a playful take on the transition of the feminine ideal, to the feminist ideal of the 1960s, which has shaped the modern woman.”
“ ‘Machismo Es Fascismo’ is a depiction of some women who were a part of the Young Lords Party — a Puerto Rican activist group,” Rivera explained. “In 1969, the women formed a caucus to shed light on the misogyny and sexism that existed within the movement. By re-visioning their 13 Point Program, the Young Lords were able to broaden their vision and work, leading to major successes for women’s health, including the ban on sterilization of Puerto Rican women.”
Not everyone has negative memories about the sixties. Nancy Erickson Dutmer, of Chetek, recalls, “In my memory, the ’60s wasn’t all about tumultuous hate and warring. I was heavily influenced by the pop, hip, swinging culture of fashion, music and film; the ‘Austin Powers’ take on the decade.”
Dane County is well-represented in the exhibit by Michael Duffy, Richard Ely & Martin Saunders, Caroline Greenwald, Koch, Andrea Musher, Leslee Nelson, Pamela Philips Olson, Jill W. Pfeiffer, Beth Racette, Katherine Steichen Rosing, Saposnik, Cherie St. Cyr, Terry Talbot, Dan S. Wang, Wimmer, and Amanda Wood from Madison; Bruce Fritz from Monona; Hanson from Fitchburg; Kroth from Verona; and Katharina Marchant from McFarland. Wisconsin artists also include John Kowalczyk, Laessig, Fatima Laster and Lybra Ray, all of Milwaukee; Ray Gloeckler of Portage; Kurt Westbrook of Poynette; Bill Weege of Arena; Megan Wilson; and Dutmer of Chetek. Out-of-state artists are Charvis Harrell of Macon, Georgia; Robert Matcejcek of Boise, Idaho; Chris Revelle of Atlanta, Georgia; and John Riggs and Rivera, both of Seattle, Washington.
— Robyn Norton