Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980

A preview of the exhibition Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980, on view at The Met Breuer from September 13, 2017, through January 14, 2018.

Featuring Kelly Baum, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art, The Met

Delirious times demand delirious art, or so this exhibition will propose. The years between 1950 and 1980 were beset by upheaval. Around the globe, military conflict proliferated and social and political unrest flared. Disenchantment with an oppressive rationalism mounted, as did a corollary interest in fantastic, hallucinatory experiences. Artists responded to these developments by incorporating absurdity, disorder, nonsense, disorientation, and repetition into their work. In the process, they destabilize space and perception, give form to extreme mental, emotional, and physical states, and derange otherwise logical structures and techniques. Delirious will explore the embrace of irrationality among American, Latin American, and European artists.


Kelly Baum: The exhibition is titled Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980, including 100 works of art by 62 different artists. About 30 percent of the works are in The Met's collection; several of them have never before been seen. And these are artists who would not normally share space together in a gallery. Instead, it surveys a vast and very disparate group of artists grappling with a similar set of concerns, realizing them in very different ways.

The premise of the exhibition is that delirious times demand delirious art. "Delirium" is a word that I apply to works of art that are alternately absurd or hilarious or disorienting—in a word, irrational.

I wanted to focus on the period defined by the fallout of the Second World War, but I also wanted to capture much of the social and political unrest of the 1960s and 1970s.

The exhibition is divided into four sections—Vertigo, Excess, Nonsense, and Twisted—and each section is meant to demonstrate a different engagement with the idea of irrationality. And the delirium certainly accelerates as viewers move through the galleries.

Among the works of art is a series of 13 photographs by the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta, in which she took a pane of glass and pressed it hard against her face. Another is Yayoi Kusama's Ladder; Kusama took an ordinary ladder and then covered it with women's high-heeled shoes and also these appendages, and they proliferate and eventually consume the ladder.

I think the experience of seeing the exhibition will be not only cerebral or intellectual, but also deeply visceral, and I think this exhibition provides a window not only onto the past but also onto the present.

Director: Kate Farrell
Producer: Melissa Bell
Editor: Stephanie Wuertz
Camera: Sarah Cowan, Stephanie Wuertz
Lighting: Dia Felix
Production Coordinator: Kaelan Burkett
Original Music: Austin Fisher

Artwork and photographs courtesy of:
Art © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
© 2017 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)
© The Estate of Wallace Berman and Kohn Gallery. © Nicole Klagsburn Gallery, New York, NY
Art © Holt-Smithson Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
© Howardena Pindell
© 2017 Andy Warhol Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000. © Tate, London 2016
© The Estate of Eva Hesse. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Detroit Institute of Arts, USA/Bridgeman Images
© FALFAA –CELS Fundacion Augusto y León Ferrari Arte Acervo - Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales; Courtesy of Sicardi Gallery; Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2009; © Tate, London 2016
© Claes Oldenburg (1929-) Albright-Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY
Collection of Diane and Bruce Halle, Phoenix, Arizona
Photo by Martha Holmes/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; © Anna Maria Maiolino; photo by Max Nauenberg
Photo by Rick Hall
Private collection, courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York / Paris
© The Estate of Lee Lozano; Courtesy Hauser & Wirth; photo by Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich
Courtesy of Carolee Schneemann and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)
Distributed by The New American Cinema Group, Inc. / The Film-Makers' Cooperative
© The Estate of Martin Wong and P•P•O•W
© Estate of Edna Andrade
Courtesy of Martha Wilson and P•P•O•W, New York
The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY
Art © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Photo by Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Digital Image © 2017 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY
Courtesy of Tony Conrad Estate and Greene Naftali, New York
© The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth
© Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), photo by Princeton University Art Museum / Art Resource
© Yayoi Kusama; Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of Hanford Yang, New York; Photo by Rich Sanders, Des Moines
© 2017 The LeWitt Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Courtesy of Dara Birnbaum and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)
Courtesy of Lynda Benglis and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)

© 2017 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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