New York

Carol Bove

Team Gallery | Grand Street

The 1960s—by which we usually mean the late ’60s and early ’70s—have been mythologized in a number of ways; exploited by conservatives, who have adopted the insurrectionary tactics originally developed by the Left; eulogized by the popular-music industry; and skewered by writers like Michel Houellebecq, whose novels explore the fallout of the sexual revolution. Artist Carol Bove was raised in Berkeley, California, the place bearing the most vivid date stamp from that era, and has said her interest in this period stems from a need to “think about” her family. Here, rather than assess the triumphs or failures of the period, she created a sort of anthropological rumination-by-exhibition, gently strumming the popular chords of the moment.

“Experiment in Total Freedom,” which included a variety of works, from wall drawings in silk thread to sculptural installations, focused on how the cultural and political becomes personal, particularly by being aestheticized in the home. Adventures in Poetry, 2002—three natural-wood shelves laden with books, including a volume of John Giorno’s poetry, a 1969 edition of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, a text by the Radical Therapist Collective, a copy of Civilization and Its Discontents, Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s The Medium Is the Massage, Dial Press’s Revolution for the Hell of It, and issues of the London-based journal Anarchy—spelled out the sociocultural proclivities of bourgeois hippie-liberals circa 1971, the year Bove was born. Two other shelf works, Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, 2002–2003, and How People Get Power, 2002, as well as the 178-book floor installation Touching, 2002, were embodied out of equally eclectic and inspired reading lists. Minimalist furniture—Knoll tables, to be exact—in The Look of Thought; The Ways of Love, 2002, and Vegetables (Land and Sea), 2003, further emphasized the idea that every cultural movement has its attendant (or guiding) aesthetic. Oriented Plane, 2003, a curtain created out of tiny sterling-silver balls and aligned along an east-west axis, evoked (and upgraded) the plastic bead curtains found in love dens. Celebrity culture also put in an appearance: on the show’s invitation card, a mug shot of Jane Fonda from an arrest at a war protest; in the gallery, ghostly framed drawings of Mia Farrow, Bianca Jagger, and Twiggy.

Sixties “high” art lurked between the lines in works like the hand-typed Ho Chi Minh Prison Poem, 2001, which, of course, made reference to the Vietnam War but also alluded to the genesis of text-based Conceptual art. Stella, 2003, a drawing made by winding silk thread around nails in the wall, conjured both Buddhist mandalas and the early Minimalism of Frank Stella. Slightly lower-brow was Strawberries Need Rain (Afterdark Photocollage), 2003, which called to mind one of the great conundrums of the period—how to visually represent an acid trip—and commemorated what can be seen in retrospect as the period’s official fruit (think “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Strawberry Alarm Clock, etc.).

Bove’s exhibition was a reminder that, in reconstructing the Age of Aquarius, one is also re-creating the age of New York Minimalism. Ignoring the floppy hats and power flowers, Bove’s homage to the ’60s was literally grounded “in the text” and possessed an authoritative formal presence as well as political weight. The notion of a young woman responding to the age of heroic male artists and women in transition (Barbarella to Hanoi Jane) also ran like a subtle charge through this carefully researched and executed show.

Martha Schwendener