Monday, January 05, 2015

URBAN THEATER: NEW YORK ART IN THE 1980s




Barbara Kruger
Untitled (I Shop therefore I Am), 1987
Photographic silkscreen on vinyl
111 x 113 inches
Courtesy: Glenstone
Photo: Tim Nighswander
© Barbara Kruger


Open up an art book about the 1980’s and without much exception you will find every artist in the current show at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. I found myself walking as slow as possible in order to consider every possible image. I only became aware of many of these artists when taking a contemporary art class as an undergraduate, in the early 90’s. By then, the moment and even the lives of some of these artists had past. Their influences on the next generation of artists and the emerging art market is incalculable.

1980’s was just a prelude to the hyper 80’s we live in today. The rich are getting richer, more people are become celebrities for less and less of a good reason, and injustices persist for class, gender, and race. Only then, critics were loud like the Guerilla Girls. Thier posters of protest exposed institutions said or unsaid policies of inequality. Barbara Kruger gave us short twitter like messages in her images to warn us not to be fooled by consumerism. A consumer culture that was rapidly finding new markets in the art world. Jeff Koons’ vacuum cleaners in a display box was in the show. This was at the height of his conceptual work, before he took the easy road of pure kitsch.

Graffiti came into the gallery with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. An abundance of mediocre graffiti to gallery artists have followed. Haring maintained his street style, while Basquiat emerged out of his street roots to become part of the Neo-Expressionist. I wish there were a few more Basquiat’s and a few less Haring’s, but both were worth seeing as examples of the era and evolution of artists. Painting continued to thrive despite the rising skepticism for the life of the medium. Eric Fischl had a provocative narrative image that had a bit more punch because the image was a painting. I somehow associated Christopher Wool with the 1990’s, but I guess his roots are in the 80’s. His word pieces are often made to slow your ability to read the words rapidly and then move on. He has painted his canvas like a cheap sign with stencils. The messages are collected from popular culture, but come off cold as his black and white stark image. Philip Taaffe’s Op like painting mesmerized me, yet felt familiar because a few Texas artists are still working in the same vein.

Photography’s rise to prominence as an important art medium coincide with powerful, sometime controversial content. Even as isolated as I was in a rural town, I knew about the Mapplethorpe controversy. His dark, sublime images in this show hint at the controversy without fully addressing the shocking imagery. Not that they had too, because the myth has already overshadowed the images. Film myth was Cindy Sherman’s game in her Film Still series. Countless papers have been written about these works. In the age of Selfies, we can look back at someone that predates us and did it better. Richard Prince was also dealing with photos, but he was stripping away the ad information and leaving an image. Yet many were familiar with these ads he altered, so a kind of residual information was left. Nan Goldin photos were of a downward spiral of people around her.

My only disappointment is that the show didn’t completely take the whole of the museum spaces. When I went upstairs I ran into the permanent collection, which is great work, but I was left hungry for much more. I settled for walking through the show again at my incredibly slow pace. I tweeted that I didn’t want to leave. Sadly URBAN THEATER: NEW YORK ART IN THE 1980s will be over January 4th. 

ModernDallas.net  for more images

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