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Recent Acquisition Spotlight: Millie Chen’s "Prototypes 1970s"

January 10, 2020

Millie Chen (Canadian, born Taiwan, 1962). Prototype 1979: Road between Afghanistan and Soviet Union: Managua, Nicaragua; Shahyad Square, Tehran, Iran; Greensboro, North Carolina, USA; New York City, USA, 2016. Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper, 23 1/4 x 31 inches (59.1 x 78.7 cm). 23 1/4 x 31 inches (59.1 x 78.7 cm); Charlotte A. Watson Fund, by exchange and Gift of Miss Amelia E. White, by exchange, 2017 (2017:11.10). © 2016 Millie Chen

As an artist, Millie Chen is committed to exploring art’s ability to convey conflict and trauma. This line of questioning has led her to atrocities historical—as in her Miseries & Vengeance wallpapers—and more recent, as in the series “Prototypes 1970s.” Chen designed each work in the series as a prototype for a repeating patterned wallpaper, like the Miseries & Vengeance wallpapers. Taken together, the images trace out, year by year, some of the most important events reshaping the world between 1970 and 1979, including the Kent State shootings (1970), Iranian Revolution (1979), and the beginnings of what would become decades-long conflicts in Angola, Lebanon, and Morocco (1975).

The 1970s were also a critical decade for Chen personally; she has said “I started the decade in a shy, pre-pubescent state of mind and emerged from it with a budding but resolute sense of political consciousness.” The decade was, for the artist, a potent and paradoxical mix of

psychedelia; sexual liberation; second-wave feminism; gay rights; antiwar protests; the technological birth of Apple, Microsoft, the pocket calculator, and the mobile phone; and a groundbreaking cultural explosion, including punk rock and performance art [alongside] the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Cambodian genocide, the Kent State massacre, the energy crisis, Watergate, the AIM standoff, the Lebanese Civil War, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in West Germany, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Apartheid in South Africa, the Cultural Revolution in China, Jonestown, the Love Canal disaster, the Three Mile Island disaster, etc.