Nostalgic Engagement

Making art is rarely an isolated endeavor undertaken by an individual. It relies on specific social conditions that facilitate its production. Sometimes it emerges in a period of intensity and concentration, where all the conditions that make it possible – community, support, inspiration, financial, hard work – all fall into place. For the conceptual artist Mike Mandel, whose work has often engaged with social and community-oriented dimensions, the 1970s were just such a period, and the ensuing productivity is celebrated in Good 70s at SFMOMA.

More than just a celebration of productive decade, looking back with equal measures of nostalgia and self-aware humour, Good 70s encapsulates and explores the values of collaboration and artistic commitment that enable creative practice. The works on display also engage the 1970s as a formative social moment. Through the lens of projects such as Myself: Timed Exposures (1971), in which Mandel places himself into funny and commonplace situations, such as the window of an insurance company, the 1970s emerge in a kaleidoscope of the everyday, of culture. Equally playful and unexpected is Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston (1974), which reproduces correspondence the artist initiated with men named Edward Weston.

One of Mandel’s most iconic works, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards (1975), combines the phenomenon of the baseball card with the fame of photographers in what feels like a good-hearted send up of collectability in the art market. His “Trading Cards” feature subjects such as Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham. Also engaged with pop culture is Mandel’s book SF Giants: An Oral History (1979), which feels like a genuine unabashed love song to the artist’s sporting team.

Good 70s is also a tribute to a collaborative partnership with the artist Larry Sultan, with whom Mandel made projects such as Evidence (1977), a combing and reframing of archival material in public institutions, which places the emphasis in photographic practice not on the individual object, captured moment or ideal shot, but on photography as a cultural processes that engages wither wider values that reflect the contemporary condition.

Good 70s runs until 20 August at SFMOMA, San Francisco. For more information:

1. Mike Mandel Untitled, from the series Myself: Timed Exposures, 1971 printed 2015 courtesy the artist © Mike Mandel.