The American Dream, British Museum: decades told in print, from pop-art until today

Pop-art and minimalism will take you on an art-inspired road trip across America – but you don’t even have to leave London. The British Museum hosts a major exhibition celebrating American printmaking that will feature the artists that created the most remarkable and well-recognised artworks in the past sixty years.

american dream british museum

The American Dream: pop to the present showcases the work of those who, hailing from America, shaped arts internationally. The artists that created during rapidly changing times, inspired by so many issues that had an impact on the society, often reflected on the world around them – so the exhibition will be not only a display of top-tier art but also the exploration of problems that have significantly influenced politics, philosophy and lifestyle worldwide.

The collection of works that will be open to the public from the 9th of March to the 18th of June 2017 will comprise of more than 200 prints by seventy artists. Well-known prints – such as Andy Warhol’s Marilyn – and nonetheless impactful works of Jasper Johns, Ida Applebroog, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, Louise Bourgeois and Kara Walker, The American Dream will piece together the pioneers of new trends and social change advocates.

Where does this story begin? Print design has grown tremendously in the post-war times. The young artists have leveraged it to the level that paintings and sculptures occupied for centuries thanks to the new urban middle-class market. Soon, the niche was filled by publishers, artists and print workshops who commissioned bold, colourful works craved by the new generation of tastemakers. The people who became the enthusiasts of this form of art used owning works by forward-thinking artists to express their own stance on social issues, too. Some of the creators of the time made their prints work with other media. The exhibition will touch upon that, too, displaying Andy Warhol’s Little Electric Chair (a painting and ten screenprints) or Three-Way Plug sculpture by Claes Oldenburg alongside the complementing Floating Three-Way Plug etching.

The creative momentum that grew during the times of prosperity didn’t shy away from difficult topics and kept commenting on social issues in the decades to come. The assassination of Kennedy, the Vietnam War, civil rights fights, gender and identity issues are all present among the topics the artists spoke for. As the deconstruction of the American Dream progressed, the printmakers grew the legacy of their predecessors, still critically assessing the times they lived in.

To tell that story in detail, the loans from New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington will be displayed alongside the significant collection of prints belonging to the British Museum. From the pop-art movement of the 1960s, through the movements of the 1970s to printmakers today, the exhibition will give the audience a chance to take a closer look at American Golden Age in arts and the responses to unstable times.

“The Museum has been building up this collection of modern and contemporary works since the hugely successful exhibition The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock in 2008,” Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said. “As a new President enters the White House and another chapter of US history begins, it feels like an apposite moment to consider how artists have reflected America as a nation over 50 tumultuous years.”

9 March – 18 July 2017. Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery (Room 30), British Museum Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG. Tickets: £16.50, children under 16 go free.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being .