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The American Dream, as Seen Through the Eyes of the British Museum

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British Museum's American Dream Art Exhibit
Edward Ruscha, ‘Standard Station,’ 1966. (The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence/© Ed Ruscha/Reproduced by permission of the artist)

 

The concept of the “American Dream” is a complex one to say the least. For some, it could be defined as financial security, a means of transportation, and a family home. Others might see it as more immaterial than that: safety for themselves and their children, good health and healthcare, and access to a decent education. Yet others could see it as simply as the ability to live here in the U.S.; despite what some might argue, Americans have it pretty good compared to many other countries. (See: North Korea).

British Museum's American Dream Exhibit
Willie Cole, ‘Stowage,’ 1997 (Willie Cole/Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin Publishing, New York)

 

Now, we can see what at least one outsider believes the American Dream is all about—through American artists’ eyes. The British Museum is playing host to the U.K.’s first-ever contemporary printmaking exhibition on March 9, 2017 (it runs through June 18), entitled The American Dream: Pop to Present. With loaners from the NYC’s MoMA and the National Gallery in D.C.—as well as a plethora from the British Museum’s own collection— the exhibit will cover more than 200 pieces from 70 artists, honing in on the last six decades. The museum describes this time period as the “most dynamic and turbulent years in U.S. history.”

British Museum's American Dream Exhibit
Jasper Johns, ‘Flags I,’ 1973. (Collection of Johanna and Leslie
Garfield/VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2016/Tom Powel Imaging)

 

You’ll recognize many of the artists’ names from the Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction previews we’ve done over the last year; these are the men and women who’ve take advance concepts and boiled them down to visually striking images. A cross-section of the artists included in the exhibit are Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, and Andy Warhol. The exhibit will explore the techniques used by the artists to create their works, as well as what the prints themselves symbolized at the time. Some of these concepts-within-a-concept include America’s political power and influence (Warhol’s print below is a basically a political poster for George McGovern); and social issues such as the Civil Rights Movement (see Willie Cole’s “Stowage” below), feminism (see May Stevens’ “Big Daddy with Hats” below), and the AIDS epidemic.

British Museum's American Dream Exhibit
Andy Warhol, ‘Vote McGovern,’ 1972. (2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London)

 

Says Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, of the exhibit:

“The American Dream is a really exciting project for the British Museum, highlighting the extraordinary holdings of American prints and drawings in the collection….[With the recent U.S. election], it is the perfect time to reflect upon the impact of the U.S. over the past decades and how artists have reflected on and responded to this period change.”

Tickets to the exhibition cost about $20.50 each, and are recommended to be bought well in advance of the show. Book a visit here. Below, preview more of the works that will be on display in the exhibition.

British Museum's American Dream Exhibition
Wayne Thiebaud, ‘Gumball Machine,’ 1970 (Wayne Thiebaud/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016)
British Museum's American Dream Exhibit
Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Sky Garden’ from ‘Stoned Moon,’ 1969 (Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/DACS, London/VAGA, New York)
British Museum's American Dream Exhibit
May Stevens, ‘Big Daddy with Hats,’ 1971 (May Stevens/Reproduced by permission of the artist and Mary Ryan Gallery, New York)
British Museum American Dream Exhibit
Andy Warhol, ‘Jackie II (Jacqueline Kennedy II),’ from 11 Pop Artists, vol. II, 1965, published 1966 (2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London)
British Museum's American Dream Exhibit
Kara Walker, ‘no world from An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters,’ 2010 (Kara Walker/Reproduced by permission of the artist)
British Museum's American Dream Exhibit
Edward Ruscha, ‘Made in California,’ 1971 (Ed Ruscha/Reproduced by permission of the artist)