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Fun and games come to American art - and high time

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Fun and games have entered American art. It's about time, for the only real fun we've had in art in recent years has come from the mobiles of Alexander Calder and a few of the drawings of Saul Steinberg. True enough, there was some wit and humor in the art of the depression years - especially in the prints of Peggy Bacon, Adolf Dehn, Wanda Gag, Grant Wood, etc. And a few artists here and there since then have seen fit to crack a pictorial joke or include a bit of sly humor in their work. But it was all, by and large, rather sharp and caustic.

What was lacking then, and is still resisted in certain quarters today, is an art of pure, unadulterated fun.

The reason, of course, is that we've taken art much too seriously and see it almost exclusively in staid and solemn terms. Thus we respect a frown in art more than a smile, see solemnity as more important that joy, and believe that artistic truth is monumental and ennobling - if not actually tragic. That's all nonsense. Art can be anything that's human. But it does indicate the climate in which American art existed from its inception until only a few short years ago.

Pop art, in the early 1960s, rebelled against this solemn aspect of American art and cracked it wide open for the invasion of a wide variety of funny, witty, derisive, and sometimes wild-and-wooly styles. These ran the gamut from Red Grooms's exuberantly fun-filled and elaborately three-dimensional celebrations of American life, to the wildly madcap works of Robert Beauchamp, Gaylen Hansen, Roy De Forest, Robert Arneson, and Peter Saul - from the bright and colorful sculptures of Marisol to the grossly Rabelaisian, private-joke paintings of Philip Guston in his later years.


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