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Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas

Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas

Current price: $29.95
Publication Date: March 6th, 2015
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A sumptuously illustrated exploration of themes from science fiction and space travel, as imagined by artists across the Americas from the 1940s to the 1970s.

From the 1940s to the 1970s, visionary artists from across the Americas reimagined themes from science fiction and space travel. They mapped extraterrestrial terrain, created dystopian scenarios amid fears of nuclear annihilation, and ingeniously deployed scientific and technological subjects and motifs. This book offers a sumptuously illustrated exploration of how artists from the United States and Latin America visualized the future. Inspired variously by the “golden age” of science fiction, the Cold War, the space race, and the counterculture, these artists expressed both optimism and pessimism about humanity's prospects.

Past Futures showcases work by more than a dozen artists, including the biomorphic cosmic spaces and hybrid alien-totemic figures painted by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta (1911–2002); the utopian Hydrospatial City envisioned by Argentine Gyula Kosice (1924–); and Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan, in which Robert Smithson (1938–1973) layered tropes of time travel atop Mayan ruins. The artists respond to science fiction in film and literature and the media coverage of the space race; link myths of Europeans' first encounters with the New World to contemporary space exploration; and project futures both idealized and dystopian.

The book, which accompanies an exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, also includes an essay by the editor and curator mapping central themes; an exploration of how Latin American artists have depicted astronomic phenomena, utopian projects, and the modern machine; an essay on space-age art in Argentina during the 1960s; and a study of Smithson and science fiction.

Sarah Montross, Rodrigo Alonso, Rory O'Dea, Miguel Ángel Fernández Delgado, Candice Lin

Artists include
Rudy Ayoroa, Luis Benedit, Marcelo Bonevardi, Enrique Careaga, Enrique Castro-Cid, Vija Celmins, Carlos Colombino, Juan Downey, Fred Eversley, Mario Gallardo, Dan Graham, Nancy Graves, Raquel Forner, Peter Hutchinson, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Gyula Kosice, Roberto Matta, Emilio Renart, Robert Smithson, Michelle Stuart, Rufino Tamayo, Horacio Zabala

About the Author

Sarah J. Montross is Curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. She has curated or cocurated such notable exhibitions as Screens: Virtual Material, Cool Medium: Art, Television, and Psychedelia, and Expanding Abstraction: New England Women Painters 1950 to Now. She is the editor of Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas (MIT Press).nies.

Praise for Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas

The science-fiction boom, cold war and space race of the mid-twentieth century set off a scientific and cultural explosion. Artists across the Americas discovered an alien splendour in the atomic age. This gripping volume showcases curator Sarah Montross's exhibition at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine: from the cataclysmic (Rufino Tamayo's 1954 Cosmic Terror) to the rhythmic (Emilio Renart's 1965 Drawing No. 13), it is a revelation.—Nature

Past Futures offers a fascinating glimpse into a broader universe; one in which the potent power of sci-fi emerges in creative and idealistic forms uniquely different from those with which the contemporary mainstream is familiar. It demonstrates the vast and complex role art can play in reflecting and refracting sci-fi's innately creative potential to both represent, and imagine alternatives to, our present reality. The work will appeal especially to those with an academic background in art – the essays are tightly written pieces of artistic appreciation and analysis – but the lavishly illustrated pages will appeal to everyone: past, present and future.


Past Futures: Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas, a Maine exhibition of works by artists from the Americas and a book of the same name, dazzles viewers with its variety and emotional extremes.

Santa Fe New Mexican

Past Futures is a bold exercise in remembering an exuberant, experimental current of artistic production that practiced a deep engagement with a global astroculture. It exposes us to the traffic in ideas and images between artists and writers who found in science fiction a way of speaking for the present and imagining the future. The wide range of work presented displays both the international nature of 20th-century astroculture in the Western hemisphere and its appearance in every available medium. These artists remind us that what American SF writer Robert A. Heinlein called 'the wonderful dream' was always more than a spectacular extension of the American/Soviet Cold War. Their visual science fictions reveal an outer space where human beings exceed their roles as subjects of modern nation-states. The art that Montross and her colleagues exhibit gives us access to an imaginary in which outer space seems to be truly 'for all mankind.'

Los Angeles Review of Books

Past Futures is an important contribution to art historical literature. In highly readable prose, it deftly uncovers an era of the Americas where uncommon cultural and political circumstances encouraged heightened creative interplay in a shared preoccupation with the future. It trail blazes further by illuminating Latin America as a significant artistic force in the 'scientific imagination' (a stated intention for this project) and points to art + science fiction as an apt metaphorical vehicle capable of inducing us to ask challenging questions about the human place in the universe.

ARLIS NA Reviews