Academic journal article Afterimage

Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s

Academic journal article Afterimage

Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s

Article excerpt

Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s

MONTCLAIR ART MUSEUM

MONTCLAIR, NEW JERSEY

FEBRUARY 8-MAY 17, 2015

The art market bubble of the 1980s was actually brief; the stock market crash of '87 followed by the economic recession of 1990-91 thinned out local upscale galleries, and the AIDS-related deaths of period icons including Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe brought the heated moment to a halt. Critically engaged art that employed media was sidelined, but not dormant, with the rise of handmade painting; however, the perceived decadence of the '80s holds not a candle to what we are currently experiencing. "Theory," postmodernism, feminist studies, debates on difference, semiotics, and community-based sociopolitical projects gained traction during the '80s but were generally consigned to an "alternative," grant-writing universe of regional art contexts, left-leaning MBA programs, frugal project spaces, residencies, and publications like Afterimage.

Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, organized by Alexandra Schwartz for the Montclair Art Museum, is a somewhat reserved introduction to 1990s art installed throughout the neoclassical galleries and collections of the museum in an unintended example of institutional critique, a practice that emerged out of reappraisals of conceptual artists like Michael Asher and Belgian mischief-maker Marcel Broodthaers. Along with a new generation of curators, wall text expanded throughout the '90s, positioning art material within a greater narrative rather than through alienating encounters with the new. With the exception of brushy paintings by fantasist Karen Kilimnik or Elizabeth Peyton's adolescent fan club art, there is little evidence of accident or play in the earnest, conceptually tidy abstract paintings and occasional drawings included in Come As You Are. Photography, media, and internet art project a rangier sense of period character. Appropriately installed off the lobby is Andrea Fraser's classic video Museum Highlights:

A Gallery Talk (1989), where Fraser, in the guise of an egghead docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, subverts what would ordinarily have been a worshipful and informative tour; a quarter of a century later, it remains funny and accessible. Fred Wilson's Portrait of S.A.M. (Europeans) (1993) presents six monstrous headshots of ethnic ceramic figures and is a key work in institutional critique, where selected artists are invited to interact with collections or specific works of art within commercial or public contexts. I enjoyed Alex Bag's fifty-seven-minute video Untitled Fall '95 (1995), which strings together personas derived from art-school "types" performed by the artist using very basic single-camera video. Bag's origins are in Lily Tomlin, William Wegman, and "downtown" '80s performer/entertainers like Ann Magnuson. The self-absorbed oddballs in Bag's gallery of individuals, once common to art schools, are currently in remission, increasingly priced out of private education. As with Catherine Opie's affectionate studio portraiture of Los Angeles's LGBTQ community, the wigs, piercings, and tattoos of Bag's young women are not dated and remain, for many, still accepted teenage rites of passage.

The nomadic Gabriel Orozco was suggested to gallerist Marian Goodman by critic Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, his color photography documenting an empathic engagement with place through casual interventions within a mildly constructivist bent. Orozco's diptych My Hands Are My Heart (1991) is a Bruce Nauman-like emblematic gesture, referencing the Mexican artist's iconographic history via a sentimental image often found on Pinterest and art student blogs. Matthew Barney's work evolved from eroticized body art to the production of seriously budgeted filmed spectacles, his objects and photography operating as glamorized collectables derived from lavishly appointed occult pageantry. CREMASTER 2: The Queen's Exposition (1999), is comprised of three black-and-white gelatin silver print landscapes and an image of a woman pictured from behind in Victorian dress. …

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