"Imagining America: Icons of 20th century American Art," PBS:
WJBC Radio Bloomington
ISU's University Galleries to Receive National Attention
Barry Blinderman of University Galleries at Illinois State University joins R.C. McBride to discuss his appearance on a PBS Special about American art in the 20th century. The interview covers controversial art, mass media's effect on art and other topics, aired yesterday right before the Rush Limbaugh show - click to hear podcast.
TV Review | 'Imagining America'
Artists' Personal Visions Reveal a Nation to Itself
By ROBERTA SMITH
Published: December 28, 2005
"Imagining America: Icons of 20th-Century American Art" ends with the Velvet Underground's haunting, upbeat song "I'll Be Your Mirror." The music crosses the final "t" on the documentary's lyrical portrait of a nation as seen through the work of a dozen of its best known 20th-century artists. Ranging from Georgia O'Keeffe to Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Wojnarowicz, with special emphasis on Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, it is broad-stroked and somewhat sanitized but still effective.
"Imagining America," which will be shown on PBS tonight, was conceived and written by John Carlin and Jonathan Feinberg, an art historian at the University of Illinois, and directed by Hart Perry. If their film were a candidate for elective office, it might be criticized or admired for moving toward the center to appeal to the swing vote. It preaches tactfully to the unconverted by staying on message with a few big ideas - the conquest of the wilderness, the rise of modern industry. It traces art's shifting focus from the exterior world to the artist's inner state and out again, to the fragmenting, depersonalizing effects of media culture. Its main goal seems to be to demonstrate the Americanness of American art, the importance of New York in the development of this art and, more generally, the bellwether function of artists in society.
"There is always some way of trying to discount what is fundamentally disturbing about a great work of art," Mr. Feinberg says at the beginning of the film, conjuring up culture wars past and present. "Artists feel things that are emerging in the culture before most of the rest of us." Don't shoot the messenger.
The film is a product of the post-9/11 era. In a time of extreme divisions among Americans, it practices outreach while proposing artists as thinkers and seers and, in their way, patriots. At a point when exurbia threatens to overtake the heartland, it argues for the role of cities in culture - although the American West also comes in for quite a bit of exaltation.
This said, the film often seems to fit artists into a pre-existing agenda while avoiding controversy. It sticks almost exclusively to painting; evidently no Conceptual, performance or video artists and barely any sculptors have achieved icon status. All but two of the main artists highlighted - Robert Rauschenberg and Cindy Sherman - are dead. Despite the emphasis on identity, the film lavishes attention on Warhol without mentioning that he was gay, and discusses Wojnarowicz's art without bringing up AIDS, the disease that fueled the white-hot anger of his last works and also killed him. (It does, however, pause on a well-known still from his 1990 video "Silence=Death," which shows him with his mouth sewn shut.) [read on...]