Prints from the British Museum

The American Dream: pop to the present

from 2 June to 2 September 2018

The exhibition presents a major selection of American prints from the renowned collection of the British Museum. It is a collaboration between the Fondation Custodia, the Terra Foundation for American Art and the British Museum.


The American Dream: pop to the present. Prints from the British Museum features more than 100 prints by 42 American artists, providing an exciting overview of the development of printmaking in the United States since 1960. Many of America’s greatest artists are presented, including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Ed Ruscha, and Kara Walker, all of whom have engaged with printmaking to create some of the most enduring images of recent years.

Visitors explore the expressive potential of printmaking in a variety of powerful images created over the past six decades – a dynamic and turbulent period in the history of the United States. Artists responded to social and political situations – from JFK’s assassination, Apollo 11 and Vietnam to racism, gender politics and economic recession. They created original, ambitious prints – from the bright, colourful screenprints of the pop era to the monochromatic portfolios of minimalism to the increasingly technical experiments of more recent years. The exhibition offers an unprecedented opportunity to view a large selection of significant prints that capture the evolution of a nation and its art.

Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstrokes, 1967
Colour screenprint, 555 × 765 mm
British Museum, London 1979,1215.1
© Trustees of the British Museum and © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein New York / Adagp, Paris, 2018

The exhibition begins with the vibrant prints of pop art when artists blurred the lines between fine art and mainstream advertising. They employed techniques associated with commercial printing, like screenprint and lithography, and incorporated images from newspapers, magazines and comic books. Impersonal, repetitive prints by Andy Warhol, cartoon-like images by Roy Lichtenstein, and the bright, jarring F-111 by James Rosenquist capture the essence of this movement.

Robert Rauschenberg, Sky Garden, from Stoned Moon, 1969
Colour lithograph and screen print, 2140 × 965 mm
British Museum, London 2015,7027.1
Purchased with funds given by the Vollard Group
© Trustees of the British Museum and © Robert Rauschenberg / Adagp, Paris, 2017

Following the turning point in printmaking marked by these pop artists, three major artists – Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jim Dine – explored the medium’s creative possibilities. These artists collaborated with print workshops, especially Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) on Long Island and Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, that provided the technical infrastructure, expertise and freedom to encourage creative innovation. Rauschenberg, for example, revolutionized the scale of prints with his monumental Stoned Moon series, made in response to the 1969 lift-off of the Apollo 11 mission that put man on the moon. His rocket-sized Sky Garden from this series was the largest hand-printed lithograph to date.

Ed Ruscha, Made in California, 1971
Colour lithograph, 505 × 710 mm
British Museum, London 2013,7044.1
Purchased with funds given by Hamish Parker
© Trustees of the British Museum and © Ed Ruscha

The exhibition also explores the laid-back aesthetic of the West Coast with works from the 1970s including Ed Ruscha’s Made in California whose orange coloured liquid letters suggest freshly-squeezed orange juice. Gestural prints by Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning, and hard-edge geometric shapes by Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella show the persistence of abstraction among artists working in very different styles.

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1961-75
Woodcut on cream oriental paper, 378 × 513 mm
British Museum, London 2010,7103.1
Purchased with funds given by the James A. and Laura M. Duncan Charitable Gift Fund to the American Friends of the British Museum
© Trustees of the British Museum and © Judd Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2018

Minimalist and conceptual artists found printmaking to be an ideal medium both to explore the grid and to examine scale and proportion. Paring down form, texture and material to their essence, these artists often worked in series, making subtle shifts of colour and line. Judd’s Untitled (1961-75), for example, contains the horizontal and vertical box-like shapes of his sculptures, but the rich texture of the woodcut departs from the smooth, industrial surfaces of his three-dimensional objects.

Robert Longo, Eric, 1984
Lithograph,1475 × 585 mm
British Museum, London 2013,7048.2
Purchased with funds given by Hamish Parker
© Trustees of the British Museum and © Adagp, Paris, 2017

Not all American artists abandoned the figure. In the 1970s and 1980s, many artists moved away from abstraction and minimalism and found new ways to represent people and spaces. Artists like Chuck Close, Susan Rothenberg, Robert Longo and Philip Guston reasserted the importance of the figure through innovative prints, ranging from large mezzotints and etchings to life-size lithographs, each in their different distinct styles.

Artists continue to study social and political issues through prints. Kiki Smith, for example, works with handmade papers to represent universal subjects and explores feminist themes including reproductive rights and the representation of women’s bodies. Kara Walker investigates racial inequalities in complex prints that testify to her skill as a printmaker.

Kara Walker, no world, from An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters, 2010
Aquatint, with spitbite and drypoint, 606 × 905 mm
British Museum, London 2016,7007.1
Purchased with funds given by Margaret Conklin and David Sabel
© Trustees of the British Museum and © courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

The confidence and assertiveness of America in the post-war years has given way to a gradual disintegration of the American Dream as the very notion of the country’s exceptionalism has been critically questioned by artists. The creative momentum unleashed in the 1960s persists to this day as American artists continue to explore the potential of printmaking as an integral part of their output, with its ability to reach a broader audience and address wider social and political issues.

The presentation of this exhibition is a collaboration between the British Museum, the Fondation Custodia and the Terra Foundation for American Art.


Reportage par BFM TV, juin 2018

Video by BFM TV, June 2018


The American Dream: pop to the present
Stephen Coppel, Catherine Daunt and Susan Tallman
London, Thames & Hudson in association with the British Museum, 2017
332 pp, 388 colour illustrations, 28 × 25 cm, paperback
ISBN 9780500292822
29,00 €

To order this book, please fill out the form below. You will receive an invoice by e-mail, including package and postage fees. Payments can be made by bank transfer.

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Practical Information

Exhibition from 2 June to 2 September 2018


Fondation Custodia / Collection Frits Lugt
121, rue de Lille - 75007 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 05 75 19

Access by public transport

Metro: Assemblée Nationale (line 12) or Invalides (lines 8 and 13)
RER C: Invalides or Musée d’Orsay
Bus: lines 63, 73, 83, 84, 94, Assemblée Nationale
Vélib’: station opposite (n° 7009)

Opening hours

Every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm

Admission charges

Admission charges 10 € (full) / 7 € (reduced)
The reduced rate is available to seniors (over 60), unemployed people, groups of at least 10 people

Free admission: students, press card, ICOM card, disabled person’s card


Possibility to visit the exhibition The American Dream: pop to the present with a conference guide on the following dates (in French): Tuesday 12 June at 12.30 pm, Saturday 23 June at 12.30 pm, Thursday 28 June at 12.30 pm, Saturday 7 July at 12.30 pm, Thursday 12 July at 12.30 pm.
Admission: price of the exhibition ticket
Reservation required: