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The End of the Sixties: Kerry James Marshall’s “Mementos”

James Meyer, curator of modern art, National Gallery of Art

In his book The Art of Return: The Sixties and Contemporary Culture, introduced at the National Gallery of Art on September 8, 2019, James Meyer turns to art criticism, theory, memoir, and fiction to examine the fascination with this period and expressions of cultural memories across the globe. He draws on a diverse range of cultural objects that reimagine the “long” 1960s―a revolutionary era stretching from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s―including reenactments of civil rights, antiwar, and feminist marches; paintings; sculptures; photographs; novels; and films. Many of these works are by artists and writers born during this period who are driven to understand a monumental era that they missed. These cases show us that the past becomes significant only in relation to our present, and our remembered history never perfectly replicates time past. This, Meyer argues, is precisely what makes our contemporary attachment to the past so important: it provides us a critical opportunity to examine our own relationship to history, memory, and nostalgia.