Throughout the 1980s, a series of ruptures permanently changed the character of the art world. Art veered between radical and conservative, capricious and political, socially engaged and art-historically aware. Even as Reaganomics dramatically expanded art as a luxury commodity, postmodernism further challenged the very status of representation and shifted artists’ sense of their role in society. This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s surveys these and other developments with more than 100 works, including paintings, sculpture, photography, video, audio, works on paper, and documentary material by some 80 artists.
Four sections bring together competing factions of this transformative decade. “The End Is Near” explores the end of painting, the end of the counterculture, and the end of history. “Democracy” focuses on artists’ work in the street and their burgeoning awareness and exploitation of mass media, as well as a broader commitment to the political and the increased prominence of Central American artists and artists of color. “Gender Trouble” shows work evolving out of 1970s feminism, expanding gender roles and addressing new ideas about sexuality and the human figure in art. “Desire and Longing” presents the art of appropriation in relation to the growing visibility of queer culture sparked by the AIDS crisis.
In deliberately crossing these themes, this contentious exhibition counters the cynicism and irony with which art of this period is sometimes viewed. It presents a vivid portrait of artists struggling with their wants, needs, and desires in an era of political and aesthetic urgency—and situates our contemporary moment within the history of art of the recent past.
A comprehensive catalogue, featuring essays by exhibition curator Helen Molesworth and art historians Kobena Mercer, Frazer Ward, and Johanna Burton, accompanies the exhibition.