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The ”American Cool” exhibition


Joan Didion, 1970. Julian Wasser, courtesy Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica.

The exhibition ”American Cool” took five whole years to bring to fruition. It has been assembled by Joel Dinerstein, professor of American Civilization, at Tulane University in New Orleans, and Frank Goodyear III, co-director of Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

James Dean, 1954. Roy Schatt.

What is the definition of cool? To make the selection, the two curators had to answer that question. What are the factors that make someone a member of the cool club? They came to the conclusion that the chosen had to fit at least three out of four of the following categories:

  • originality of artistic vision and especially of a signature style
  • cultural rebellion or transgression in a given historical moment
  • iconicity, or a certain level of high-profile recognition
    • recognized cultural legacy (lasting more than a decade)

A poster-sized still from the 1969 road movie ”Easy Rider”
at the ”American Cool’‘ exhibition. AFP/GETTY IMAGES


Cool carries a social charge of rebelliousness, distinct idiosyncrasy, magnetism, edge & mystery. Cool is an original American sensibility and remains a global obsession till today. But who is the father of cool? The legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young was the one that imported this central African-American concept in the modern argot, back in the early 1940’s. Cool, ever since, became a password in bohemian life, suggesting a balanced state of mind, a dynamic way or performance, and a certain stylish detachment. Cool has been ”incarnated” in notorious jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, in actors such as Robert Mitchum, Faye Dunaway, and Johnny Depp, and in singers such as Elvis Presley and Patti Smith.
It also includes modern-day culture figures like Q.Tarantino and Jay-Z, who according to the curator Dinerstein should not be on the list. Dinerstein said:”There are people on this list who I wish where not, but our culture has elevated them to ”cool”. my example is Quentin Tarantino. I don’t like his films and I don’t like him. But there’s no question of his national and global influence both on art and film and everyone under 40”.

Marlon Brando, 1950. Philippe Halsman Archive.

The ”American cool” exhibition is on show till September 7, 2014.

National Portrait Gallery:http://www.npg.si.edu



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This entry was posted on April 1, 2014 by in EXHIBITIONS and tagged , , , .

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