By: Jasper Intern Karie Grace Duncan
The main text of That 70’s Show sits in a beanbag-filled room on a citron wall, right alongside two optical art pieces that move more on your eye the longer you stare.
“This gallery in particular is about experience,” says Catherine Walworth, curator of the exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art. “This gallery is meant to just have beanbags and [to be] experienced slowly. And you can pull them up to whatever piece you want.
This room is one of the two galleries that comprise the colorful ‘70s exhibition where Walworth will give a gallery talk on July 18.
“I think that so much of the exhibition is about getting back to that old-fashioned id ea of lived experience, [so] a gallery talk is fitting,” says Walworth. “I'm excited to have a more informal format so the audience can share their own historical memories and ideas as we go along and touch on certain points that the works themselves raise.”
The 27 works in the exhibition certainly have a lot of points to raise about the ‘70s and what that radical decade means in context today.
“People often wonder what was the most dominant art form; well, there wasn’t one,” says Walworth. “It was about all of these other voices emerging, making artwork about their personal experiences.”
Many of those emerging voices can be found on the geometric wallpaper timeline designed for and displayed in the That ‘70s Show exhibition. The decade was a hotbed of political and cultural firsts, including the women’s liberation movement, the gay liberation movement, and the American Indian movement.
“All of these people suddenly have a seat at the table and their artwork does as well,” says Walworth.
Each work is also from the museum’s collection and most aren’t often or haven’t recently been on view because of their medium. Even some pieces that the museum had hoped to show, like an Emma Amos print that had long lingered in storage and a faded Sam Gilliam painting, ended up missing in action due to their lengthy archival stays.
Still, museum goers will be happy to see that several big name artists like Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Robert Indiana, and Robert Rauschenberg made it into the exhibition, but their impact on the exhibition is greater than their celebrity.
“A lot of these artists that are big names were making big shifts in their careers in the 70s, so it’s great to have that conversation and see their work in context this way,” says Walworth. Some of those shifts are to producing hand-made, woozy art that exemplifies the essence of the ‘70s which is the focal point of one section of the exhibition.
The other focus of the exhibition is a political one that asks, “what was going on in the ‘70s? And why does it matter today?” A question that Walworth says is important for people to ask.
“All of the civil liberties that came about in the 70s, they came roaring forward and [people] said ‘we all need to be heard and have rights and dignity,’” says Walworth. “That [listening] is what museums are supposed to do all the time. So, I think [the exhibition] is a lovely reinforcement of that idea.”
As her first fully curated, in-house organized exhibition for the Columbia Museum of Art, it’s a personal one for Walworth. “I finally get to have my own voice. So, this show is just mine, which is great,” says Walworth.
Between getting her masters from University of Washington and doctorate from The Ohio State University, she worked on “Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique,” a large exhibition about the 1900s World’s Fair with multiple international loans and large Faberge eggs at the Cleveland Museum of Art. But not every exhibition needs to be so large to be so impressive.
“The exciting thing for me since I’ve been here are the little moments when people come up and say that they really got it or it was exciting for them,” says Walworth. “It’s not the big Faberge eggs, it’s the little chestnuts that are really great for me.”
Walworth wants to continue cultivating those little chestnuts by displaying more of the museum’s little-known modern and contemporary art pieces in the museum’s 2018 reopening.
“The museum's collection belongs to the people of Columbia and the people of South Carolina,” says Walworth. “So I want to bring surprises out to them and show them more of what belongs to them.”