“Hippie Modernism,” which just opened at the Cranbrook Art Museum, takes a serious look at the impact of 1960s counterculture on the worlds of art, architecture and design. But if that sounds like an academic snooze, rejoice — it’s not.
This sprawling, handsomely organized show — which traces a generation’s attempt to create utopia and have a ton of fun in the process — maintains a fizzy vibe throughout, even if some sections, particularly those touching on architecture, get a little text-heavy.
The show’s time frame is 1964-1974, museum director and exhibition curator Andrew Blauvelt explains, when “it was all about creating another society where the food, lifestyle and all would be different. And to create that lifestyle,” he adds, nailing why this show is a perfect fit for a design school, “they had to create artifacts.”
And what artifacts. Start with the biggest of the bunch. You can’t miss Ken Isaacs’ huge blue cube, “The Knowledge Box,” with its 24 wall-mounted slide projectors all facing inward. (Sadly, Isaacs died earlier this month at age 89.)
Mount the stairs and open the door to the 1962 project, and find yourself in a black-and-white world of faded, flickering images, a kaleidoscope of 24 constantly shifting pop-culture photos that create a sensation of being enveloped — or perhaps irradiated — by ghostly reminders of the era’s promise and failure.
Best of all, at least for those on the grayer side of middle age, is the almost-forgotten sound of Kennedy-era slide carousels going “Ka-chunk, ka-chunk.”
Unsurprisingly, there are some great political broadsides on view, including Ray Belloli’s bright-red adaptation of Goya’s classic “Saturn Devouring His Son,” titled “Amerika Is Devouring Its Children.”
Nearby, check out “untitled (rifle flag),” an upside-down America flag where the bars are rifles and the stars little white bombers. (This was, after all, the Vietnam era.)
Rock posters, one of the era’s great outlets for creativity, get their due, with several stunners for concerts at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom designed by local celebrity Gary Grimshaw.
Nor is photography slighted. Ira Cohen’s hallucinogenic portraits of luminaries like Jimi Hendrix, shot in a room wrapped in reflective, distorting Mylar, are spellbinding, and nicely capture the era’s emphasis on alternate consciousness.
Finally, if today’s gender-bending bathroom debates strike you as pushing boundaries, they’ve got nothing on the transgressive splendor of the Cockettes, a San Francisco “acid drag” troupe that bent every boundary its members could find.
Through Oct. 9
Cranbrook Art Museum, 39221 Woodward, Bloomfield Hills
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.- Sun.
$10-adults, $8-seniors, $6-students with I.D. Members and children under 12 free.