One dynamic that artists seemingly have a never-ending supply of is the kinds of new thinking that allows for looking at the world from an entirely fresh perspective— their fluent creative impulses constantly forging new pathways in societal habits and even in our intellectual understandings. Their ability to break free from an existing infrastructure, whether materially or conceptually, opens a space rich with potential that is then filled with some wholly original idea, expanding outwards into the world and into our collective psyche. Oftentimes utilizing great humor, and almost always a passionate sense of reckless abandon, great art and counterculture go hand in hand, offering some of the boldest and most exciting statements of pure creative genius. Both a reality check and a reminder not to take life so seriously, the counterculture holds the power to ground and uplift simultaneously.
Various Artists – Graffiti, 5 SIGNED offset lithograph 1992 – actual signatures vary slightly
This crackling piece Graffiti is a veritable exposé of a handful of prominent New York City graffiti artists from the street art scene of the 80s and 90s. An original poster for a 1992 exhibition at the Klarfeld Perry Gallery in New York, the poster is signed by Daze (Chris Ellis), Lady Pink (Sandra Fabara), Crash (John Matos), Futura 2000 (Lenny McGurr) and Lee (Lee Quinones). Not only does the collector get to display the aesthetic of this blistering era of raw street art, they get to take home the actual tags.
Keith Haring – Untitled (Dog), offset lithograph 1991
And a discussion of street art cannot be without mention of the brilliance of Keith Haring, who spanned the boundaries between cartoons, graffiti, fine art, art for fun and art with a message. His personal values and magnetic personality wove their way through his designs, the undercurrent of humor often a catalyst and an amazingly effective vehicle for his expressions. This piece Untitled (Dog) shows us how not to box ourselves in, to open our minds and take it all in stride.
Scott Mutter – A Culture is an Unfathomable State of Mind, offset lithograph 1983
Scott Mutter created this piece in 1983 that is oddly again relevant, as much great art is— A Culture is an Unfathomable State of Mind is a succinct work, confident yet delicate, serious yet funny. With a surprisingly sophisticated beauty, perhaps the strength of the message enriches this familiar symbol, infusing it with new meaning and a seductive glimmer.
"Both a reality check and a reminder not to take life so seriously, the counterculture holds the power to ground and uplift simultaneously."
Julian Schnabel – Klatsch - Gossip, SIGNED silkscreen 2006
In Klatsch - Gossip, a signed silkscreen by neo-expressionist art star Julian Schnabel, the art joke is shameless— a blatant photograph of another work of art, complete with convex lens distortion, purposeful careless off-centering, and an unfortunately placed light flare reflecting off the glass covering, the icing on the cake is the text below which translates to ‘Text about the art.’ The print is, of course, signed by Schnabel.
Jeff Koons – Split-Rocker, porcelain plate 2012
Counterculture artists are clearly jokesters at heart, at their best when simply being themselves. Though Jeff Koons has taken on a larger-than-life status with an unmistakably distinctive voice, the humor from which his concepts are born must certainly be the carrying principle. Maybe monumental in structure but disruptively light in tone, works of his like Split-Rocker are so full of newness and originality they practically create brain pathways as they are experienced. And with this limited edition porcelain plate, the Koons joke of reproducing objects from everyday life folds over on itself, his grand high art suddenly again an everyday object.
Matthew Barney – Drawing Restraint 9: New Sun, SIGNED offset lithograph 2010
For Matthew Barney, an entire artistic oeuvre (one of many) has been built around his concept ‘Drawing Restraint’, one year’s episode of which includes a feature-length film created with his then-lover Björk, large-scale sculptures, photographs, drawings and books. An unconventional love story and a meditation on creative process and romance juxtaposed with whale-sized practices of the petroleum industry, it is possibly a commentary on both the human condition and the inhumanness of the world we have created around us. This print Drawing Restraint 9: New Sun is but a small window into this multilayered project, used here for the Gotham Chamber Opera's production of "Il Mondo Della Luna" (The World on the Moon) in New York, and is signed by Barney.
Various Artists – Posters by Painters, book 1978
And in this 1978 book Posters by Painters a laundry list of art world greats are collected together for a near unreasonable display of visionary mastery. Famous artists including Blake, Lindner, Glaser, Barnet, Lichtenstein, Warhol and Matisse, amongst others, were the pillars of the visual landscape, combining adeptness in both the worlds of solitary painting creativity and public eye visibility, bringing the inner realms of the artist and the outer world together— a vital link between the masses and the creative atmosphere of their spirits. And perhaps therein lies the power to shift the old thinking of societal acceptability towards a fresh culture that counters it.
Marcel Duchamp – Fountain, offset lithograph 1997 Unknown Artist – Cover to Cover, offset lithograph 1982