After enjoying the Season 3 opener of AMC TV’s award-winning drama, Mad Men, I was pleased to note a few things I hadn’t expected.
Viewers are plunged into revelations concerning key characters as they continue to act out hidden agendas that foster lies, deception, and infidelity.
We are offered greater insight into the psychological make-up of our favorite imperfect heroes, as well as the amusing cultural divide between the Brits and the Yanks as each group gathers separately, trying to figure out the oddities of the other.
What I noticed immediately is visual – the darkening tones in general (or is it my imagination?) and additional inclusion and discussion of art.
Joanie wore red
As the palette seems moodier and the lighting more somber, I find myself wondering why Joan wore a vibrant shade of red in one scene. Surely, there are reasons.
She stood out more than usual, and the clever creators of Mad Men make choices imbued (and hued) with meaning, particularly when it comes to costume and décor.
Meanwhile, as we delve into murky psychological waters, I applaud the muddier tones, along with increasing use of night time and interior scenes. All set the stage – it would appear – for the story lines to come.
And then there’s the art
Last season viewers were the beneficiaries of a discussion on Mark Rothko, one of the most remarkable of the New York School or post-war painters. His blend of saturated colors, one bleeding into the next, was the subject of both bewilderment and appreciation.
(Check out color field painting – gorgeous stuff.)
In this first episode of the new season, a large Japanese print is discussed by the partners, while abstract works take their place in other office views, occasionally punctuating brooding backdrops with texture and color.
I love the possibility that Mad Men producers might deliver on the promise of cutting edge art (for the time); it wouldn’t be far-fetched for this group of sharp, complex, and forward-thinking creatives.
The 1960s are fertile years to mine, not only for the political turmoil to come, but as a dynamic period of change in the art world, especially in New York. Might we see works of Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and other abstract expressionists appear as Rothko did?
Or better yet, from the talented group of women writers on AMC’s Mad Men staff, work from the women of color field painting and the New York School – Hedda Sterne, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, and Joan Mitchell?
Meanwhile, as unrest ferments, so, too do the beginnings of pop art: Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine and others were breaking down barriers between art and popular culture. And isn’t that what the advertising world is all about, at its best?
Perfect Pop Opps?
Here’s a thought. Since Andy Warhol began his career in illustration and advertising, wouldn’t a Sterling Cooper-Warhol encounter be exciting, and albeit fictionalized, plausible?
Warhol began exhibiting, solo, as a fine artist in 1962, but you never know who the intrepid account team of Ken, Pete and the others might meet in a Greenwich Village bar… Sal or Peggy for that matter, only to end up at the infamous Factory, when the timing is right.
Another possible pop opportunity? Sterling Cooper has the Campbell’s Soup account as I recall, and plenty of Marilyn fans, for a future purchase. Might Bertram Cooper not be pleased with a Warhol Campbell’s Soup Can painted in 1962, if not as a discerning investment, as an amusing addition to his office wall, and conversation piece?
Too much to hope for?
For Mad Men fans and art lovers, maybe it’s too much to hope for – a clever collision of related worlds – art and advertising. I’ll nonetheless remain optimistic that this quality-all-the-way television show will incorporate aspects of a wildly creative period in American art history. And not only on the walls, but in the plot lines and atmospheric settings, even as we know what lies ahead in this turbulent decade.
For an interesting post on female painters of this period, check this out.
Visit AMCTV.com for more Mad Men images. Click Rauschenberg to access image at SFMOMA. Click Soup Can to access image at Wiki.