Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s

The 80s were tumultuous times. The AIDS crisis brought about the ominous feeling of the end of times, while feminism and movements for social justice challenged tradition and opened possibilities for new relationships between races and genders. The 80s ushered in a new era of conservative politics and postmodern ideas, creating a complex and increasingly material world. For the first time, people grew up with television in the home, creating an environment driven by images of desire for objects, lifestyles, fame, conformity, and anti-conformity.

This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s, a catalog and exhibition on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago until June 3, attempts to make sense of what happened to the visual arts in the United States during this heated decade. Helen Molesworth, the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston, focuses on the art, artists, and political and culture wars of this paradigm-shifting decade. More than 200 full-color reproductions of works in a range of media, including drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture, illustrate this ambitious guide to a period of artistic transformation. Artists include Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin, Mike Kelley, Jeff Koons, Sherrie Levine, and Lorna Simpson, among others.

The exhibition is divided into four thematic parts and contains 130 works that represent tragedy and humor, optimism and pessimism, reflection and revolution. “The End Is Near” examines the end of painting, counter-culture, cultural hegemony and even history. “Democracy” focuses on the growing influence of the media and people of color over the government. “Gender Troubles” takes cues from feminism and queer theory in challenging gender norms and creating new sexual identities. Finally, “Desire And Longing” explores notions of desire, longing and loss in relation to artistic technique.

The 80s were complex and full of contradictions from the rise of counterculture to the mainstream, radicalism to democracy and historical awareness, conservatism to feminist politics. This Will Have Been describes the decade with all its complexities, never settling to simplify it. Read more about the exhibition and see an accompanying slideshow of images on The Huffington Post.

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