those who scaled the high, hard times


Maybe it is because the word “times” occurs twice in its title that “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-75” achieves such a feeling for period. Even for someone who was a toddler when the experimental abstract painting in this lively, intelligent, informative survey got going—in another continent, to boot—dejà vu seems to waft from the National Academy’s fabric walls. What must this show feel like for people who lived through those years?

This was the era of spray guns and masking tape. So many of these dishevelled yet sparky paintings and paint-based objects have the trippy, hippy look of the years of the flower power movement, civil rights, ecology, and emerging feminism and gay liberation. Even brightly colored works have a limp, tie-dye, impoverished quality. Everything is rough at the edges, made from cheap or recycled materials, informal or provisional in arrangement, sometimes ethnic-looking, other times futuristic, and always at once earnest and nonchalent—in harmony with what one knows (or projects) of the look and feel of bohemia, the city, and youth culture at that time.

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