These lectures look at the late-1950s emergence of the Modernist style among youthful connoisseurs of advanced American jazz and how it fostered a favourable climate for signature British artists of the 1960s—Robyn Denny, David Hockney, Pauline Boty, Bridget Riley, Bruce McLean, and Terry Atkinson, among them.
The Paul Mellon lectures, which are named in honour of the philanthropist and collector of British art, Paul Mellon (1907-1999), were inaugurated in 1994 when Professor Francis Haskell delivered the first series at the Gallery in London. The model for the series was the Andrew W. Mellon lectures, established in 1949 in honour of Paul Mellon’s father, the founder of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The lectures are biennial, given by a distinguished historian of British art.
In 2017 the lectures will be delivered by Tom Crow, Rosalie Solow Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. His teaching and research reaches from the later seventeenth century in Europe to the contemporary in both Europe and America.
Can the consumption of art itself become an art form? Young London followers of up-to-date jazz—the Modernists—answered yes, less in words than in the cultivation of discriminating personal style and (by some adepts) in graphic design far ahead of its time.
Could the young Modernist’s fascination with advanced American jazz be realized in painting? Yes, but for just a moment. Could David Hockney join the Mod outlook to sustained international success? Yes, but only with the aid of other, international Modernisms.
By the mid-1960s, the mass media caught up with the Modernist style pioneers. Mod-inspired cinema, broadcasting, and glossy print gave unprecedented visibility to women artists—Pauline Boty and Bridget Riley in particular—but at serious cost to the legacies of both.
The visual extravagance of the counterculture and its ethos of mind expansion, exemplified by the Beatles, changed London sculpture, pre-empting the colours and flaring contours inspired by Anthony Caro and pushing young artists towards radical experiments with pre-sculptural matter.
The arc of original London Modernism appeared to end with the Mod media spectacle of the mid-1960s, then to be buried by the hippy wave. But the true Modernist cult persisted with its original exclusivity, secrecy, and exquisite discrimination restored.