James Meyer, Curator of Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. speaks about his book, The Art of Return: The Sixties and Contemporary Culture.
More than any other decade, the sixties capture our collective cultural imagination. And while many Americans can immediately imagine the sound of Martin Luther King Jr. declaring “I have a dream!” or envision hippies placing flowers in gun barrels, the revolutionary sixties resonates around the world: China’s communist government inaugurated a new cultural era, African nations won independence from colonial rule, and students across Europe took to the streets, calling for an end to capitalism, imperialism, and the Vietnam War. In this innovative work, James Meyer turns to art criticism, theory, memoir, and fiction to examine the fascination with the long sixties and contemporary expressions of these cultural memories across the globe. Meyer draws on a diverse range of cultural objects that reimagine this revolutionary era stretching from the 1950s to the 1970s, including reenactments of civil rights, antiwar, and feminist marches, paintings, sculptures, photographs, novels, and films. These cases show us that the past becomes significant only in relation to our present, and our remembered history never perfectly replicates time past. This, Meyer argues, is precisely what makes our contemporary attachment to the past so important: it provides us a critical opportunity to examine our own relationship to history, memory, and nostalgia.
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