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American Art from the 80s

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago offers insight into the art of the 80s.

Here, in the infamously windy city of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art or MCA is hosting a show that addresses the politics of the Reagan era entitledThis Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s. It traces the significant events of those years and the artists’ response to the happenings. The socio-cultural milestones of the time included a growing disenchantment with democracy due to the inadequacy of the government in dealing with the AIDs crisis and the draconian politics of both Reagan and Thatcher while the Berlin wall fell amidst international jubilation, the introduction of personal computers, Sony Walkman ATMs and huge anti-nuclear protests that hit New York. Thus the show is divided into four sections; The End is Near, Desire and Longing, Democracy and Gender Troubles to encompass the major issues of the era.

For some reason, the show seems faded and lifeless. It could be that the concerns tackled in the show have somewhat been put to rest, or rather overshadowed by more pressing, immediate issues of financial collapse, world poverty and a faltering environment. To a large extent homosexuality has been embraced as mainstream lifestyle, new technologies are advancing so fast that the consumer is almost jaded and unenthused by new ‘toys’ and democracy, well…that hasn’t done much good anywhere in the world and feminism has become another overhyped ism. Thus, Barbara Kruger’s lithographs “Untitled” (We will no longer be seen and not heard), from 1985, a statement on feminism, Gerhardt Richter’s Said, a completely abstract piece from 1983 and Jimmy De Sana’s absurdMarker Cones, 1982 — all seem passé rather than a reminder of a time past. The work is recent enough for most of the new generation to have seen and heard and too old to be of relevance to the post-postmodern world.

Of course there are exceptions. The works that stand out and express their timelessness are works by the Guerilla Girls, full of sardonic humour and wry satire and Felix Torres Gonzales’ Perfect Lovers, the two wall clocks ticking away in total unison, so poignant in its simplicity.

But the real issue here is not whether the art of the eighties is appreciated by us but why some works live on and some begin to look world-weary after they have lost their conceptual resonance and relevance. As with all such debates, the issue of subjectivity rears its head to rescue naysayers and cynics and dismisses the idea of good and bad and relevant or otherwise. But the fact is that in artworks where the mind meets the heart in spontaneous fusion, the wow factor lives on, no matter how many years or views later.

 

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