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Review: Perspectives of “New Age” Concepts at DePaul Art Museum

When New Age first came into vogue in the late ’60s and ’70s, yoga, meditation and astrology as well as vegetarianism were viewed as exotic and often dismissed as forms of quackery. Practiced for the most part by the counterculture during that time, it was considered an alternative form of spirituality from western forms of worship. But today, many New Age practices have gained acceptance. Yoga studios and meditation seminars can easily be found in cities and towns throughout the country. And organic produce, a food staple for many New Agers in the ’70s, is readily available in most chain food stores. And as further proof on how much New Age practices are accepted, many companies now offer classes in yoga and tai chi, as well as seminars about mindfulness to help their employees relieve stress.

These and other New Age themes are explored in the new exhibition, New Age, New Age: Strategies for Survival at the DePaul Art Museum. On display are the works of 27 contemporary artists who embrace as well as critique New Age concepts. There is a wide range of media including paintings, installations, sculpture, photography and video.

This exhibition is divided into three rooms with distinct themes — Metaphysical Connection; Fictional Communities and Potential Future; and Our Relationships to Nature.

Here are some highlights in this exhibition:

In the room dedicated to Metaphysical Connection, Desiree Holman explores how new forms of technology will merge and transform human life such as in her work, Time Traveler, where a female figure wears a helmet that allows her to achieve psychic powers. In Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly’s ceramic work, Spirit Women, the artist exemplifies her use of clay while imagining the divine feminine. There is also a series of color pencil drawings by Elijah Burgher that incorporate mysticism and the occult while inviting viewers to take a closer look at new forms of spiritual practices.

In the room dedicated to the theme of Fictional Communities and Potential Future, many of the works reflect on a hopeful future where social change can be achieved by raising one’s consciousness. Mai-Thu Perret creates a futuristic figure of a female warrior who is striving to create a Utopian society free from a patriarchal culture. Equally impressive is Alan Be’s photograph, Potentiality, that shows a young African American wearing virtual reality goggles and a superhero cape as he stares with confidence into the far-off distance, exhibiting self-assurance about his future. Suzanne Treister’s print, From Psychedelics via the Counterculture to the Possible Futures of Humanity, traces historic movements that have taken place from the 1960s to 2016—movements that are rooted in New Age idealism.

On the second floor, the works on display investigate our relationship to nature. A series of prints by Heidi Norton shows the tragic reality of how nonperishable items such as plastics are at odds with organic decaying elements in our environment. In Brown Dwarf, Michiko Itatani focuses on our relationship with the cosmos, showing us a connection between the micro and macro world. There is also an interactive work by Whit Forrester titled The Electric Universe Theory that investigates how humans, technology and the natural world interact with each other. Viewers can experience a gentle electrical current by touching the gold leaf surface. This electric current seems to tell us there is a flow of energy that connects all living organisms.

Even for those who aren’t fans of New Age ideas, this exhibition will still be thought provoking. This isn’t some hippie-trippy affair that relies on tired images from the ’60s such as flower power and peace signs. It instead shows how many New Age concepts have influenced art, music, spiritual and physical wellness, and social/political change.

New Age, New Age: Strategies for Survival  will run through August 11. The DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. Gallery hours are Wednesday and Thursday 11am-7pm; Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11am-5pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit their website or call 773-325-7506.