DeCordova presents Cool Medium, a colorful look at the intersections of television, psychedelia, and visual art


On October 6, 2017, deCordova presents Cool Medium: Art, Television & Psychedelia, 1960-1980, which explores how the emergence of color television and psychedelic culture—and the hypnotic properties of both—intersected with visual art. Drawn primarily from deCordova’s permanent collection, Cool Medium includes painting, photographs, and prints that relate to the visual language of the television screen and conditions of mass media culture. The works in the exhibition mirror the saturated colors and patterns shown on television in the 1960s and 1970s, and also address cultural issues of drug use, paranoia, space exploration, and media saturation.

Sarah Montross, deCordova’s associate curator, explains, “Some artists used the visual trickery of Op Art to simulate television’s mesmerizing qualities, while others borrowed psychedelic imagery to address issues of mind control and brainwashing associated with television. Other works express paranoia and the loss of self in the face of mass culture. Altogether, these artworks underscore the transfixing visions of many artists during the age of the television.”

Exhibition themes include:

  • Optical Art: Featuring geometric shapes, concentric lines, and contrasting colors, these hypnotic artworks simulate the shimmering effect of television screens and drug-induced hallucinatory visions. Many of the works appear to pulsate or move, creating a kinetic experience for viewers.
  • Television Test Patterns: Some artists were inspired by the symmetry and structure of test patterns—aired prior to a television programs and used as a control for measuring contrast, focus, and color on television screens.
  • Psychedelia and Spirituality: Artists often created work that suggests a drug-induced state of enlightenment, or that are intended to provide access to higher levels of consciousness. Other artists were inspired by their studies of spirituality, such as the Kabbalah (Hebrew mysticism) and Eastern religions.

Artists in this exhibition include Yaacov Agam, David Akiba, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Stephen Beck, Hannes Beckmann, Charles Biederman, Jan Ehrenworth, Len Gittleman, Sante Graziani, Aaronel de Roy Gruber, Yeffe Kimball, Paul Laffoley, William Leete, Terri Priest, Alan Shields, John Stephan, Harold Tovish.

Cool Medium is organized by Sarah Montross, Associate Curator, with Scout Hutchinson, Curatorial Assistant. The exhibition opens to the public on Friday, October 6, 2017, and will be on view through Sunday, March 11, 2018.

Related Programming

Workshop: Psychedelic Glass Mandalas
Tuesdays, November 7 and 21, 6:30 pm–9 pm
$75 Members, $90 Not-Yet-Members

Inspired by the art of Paul Laffoley and other visionary artists in Cool Medium: Art, Television & Psychedelia, 1960-1980, create mosaic mandalas inspired by the psychedelic images in this dynamic exhibition.

Curator-Led Tour of Cool Medium
Thursday, January 18, 12 pm
Free with Museum admission

Explore the intersections of television, psychedelia, and visual art on this tour led by Curatorial Assistant Scout Hutchinson.

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