Vancouver curator Scott Watson’s essay Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos and Squats is part of the impressive and totally compelling Vancouver Art in the Sixties website project. It’s a well-organized archive of Vancouver’s 1960s art production and it’s far too large a topic for one post. What I found immediately interesting though was Watson’s historical contextualization of residential architecture and interior aesthetics in the 60s, especially its turn away from modernist minimalism and toward more baroque historical styles. He suggests that the Edwardian bric-a-brac and Art Nouveau styles that were adopted by Vancouver’s arts and hippie communities in the 60s were a reaction against the City of Vancouver’s move to demolish the crumbling inner-city Edwardian houses, which housed its art and social protest, and replace them with corporate architectural brutalism and strata-controlled condos. This was no doubt replayed in cities all across North America. Watson’s essay is particularly interesting in light of the current revival of Edwardian/Victorian granny chic in interior design and craft. It seems to me this is revival without any politics, but I could be wrong. In many cases it seems the farthest thing from radical, however you understand that word, but it could also be an echo of a similar problem in urban planning. Photo above by Michael de Courcy shows a screening on December 31, 1969 of a collaborative video at Vancouver’s Intermedia art centre.
The following are excerpts from Watson’s essay (click the link at top for the whole text).
“At the advent of what we now call postmodernism, the doomed Edwardian building inventory that provided bohemia’s living, studio and event spaces also provided an aesthetic opposed to Brutalism, the heavy concrete fortress style of public buildings that had arisen in response to the riots and demonstrations of the 60s. Late Victorian and Edwardian furniture and bric-a-brac furnished communal houses. In these spaces Art Nouveau was revived and deployed to advertise concerts and events. Rejection of the “brutality of the new” was, in essence, a very real concern about the disappearance of places to live, eat, congregate, exhibit and perform. In defnse of a crumbling inventory of modest, poorly built pioneer-era wooden and brick structures, the art community of the day rejected not only the Brutalist idioms of the 1960s and 1970s, but the gentler suburban modernism of the 1940s and 1950s. Or to be more precise, the authoritarian, normalizing, “design for living” modernism, with its unarticulated suppression of libidinal circulation, was an anathema for the generation of the 1960s and 1970s. The hippie movement as appropriated by fashion and popular music adopted Edwardian and Art Nouveau as its style of protest and renunciation of consumer/spectacle society.” [This excerpt was the last paragraph of several excerpts below. Click for more.]
Art Nouveau-influenced Doors poster by Bob Masse, Vancouver, 1967. Below, Bob Masse, William Tell & the Marksmen Great White Light, Vancouver, 1960s.
Will your home be next? Poster by Don Gutstein, poster, Vancouver, 1975