Magazine article Artforum International

"This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s": MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, CHICAGO

Magazine article Artforum International

"This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s": MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, CHICAGO

Article excerpt

IN SEPTEMBER 1983, Lorraine O'Grady made good on a decades-old avant-garde bromide and brought art to the street. Or, rather, she refrained the street as art--literally. For her work Art is ..., O'Grady mounted an elaborately oversize golden frame atop a float set to proceed along Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in the annual African American Day Parade. The caption ART IS, handwritten on the skirt that wrapped around the base of the float, confirmed that the ever-shifting vistas of urban life and public spectatorship isolated by the frame were indeed "art." Dancing around and alongside the float, a team of what O'Grady would later refer to as fifteen "gorgeous young black actors" redoubled this declarative gesture by holding similarly gilded frames up to the parade's spectators, making them "art" too. In its original conception and execution, this was "art" for--and--of an emphatically non-art-world audience. Twenty-six years later, O'Grady reprised the work in a far more institutional context, assembling photographs of the various views that had issued from the 1983 parade and mounting them in a grid on the white wall of an art fair booth. This was how the piece appeared recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago's "This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1 980s," where it brilliantly, and perhaps inadvertently, encapsulated both the promises and the problems of the 1980s art collected in the show.

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Although Art Is ... was hung in the section dedicated to the theme of "Democracy," it might have been equally effective in any of the exhibition's other sections: "Gender Trouble," "Desire and Longing," or "The End Is Near." Indeed, curator Helen Molesworth's gambit was to propose that the hundred-plus artists in the show were united by their collective debt to 1970s feminism, and in choosing these four themes as her points of entry into the '80s, she sought to highlight feminism's diverse and interconnected legacies as they were parlayed into broader discourses about public belonging, identity, desire, and representation. In this fashion, one artist's engagement with the ever-shifting problem of who, exactly, constitutes a democratic public, or how those bodies otherwise excluded from such formulations might he properly imaged, were made to echo feminist claims regarding hierarchical inequality and inherited privilege.

The greatest strength of this curatorial strategy was its ability to build on and exceed the limits of individual works while also expanding the purview of what gets remembered in the historicist ambitions of periodization. For instance, the issues remarkably mobilized in O'Grady's work were also shown to he present in Krzysztof Wodiczko's game-changing Homeless Vehicle, Version 3,1988, and Adrian Piper's seminal My Calling (Cards) #1 & #2, 1986-90, thereby sketching out a strikingly complex intertwining of seemingly disparate themes as they emerged throughout the decade. The effects of this contrapuntal setup were subtle but significant. Celebrated works were pried from the deadened shells of their usual reception and made to ask questions in new, often more multivalent ways than previously allowed. Arguments mounted in one section or on one wall reverberated with, complicated, and sometimes even undid arguments mounted elsewhere through a complex relay of transversal glances--both metaphoric and literal.

An excellent case in point was Molesworth's pairing of Candy Jernigan's grimly museological assemblages of salvaged crack vials in Found Dope: Part 11, 1986, with Raymond Pettibon's darkly cartoonish indictment of the fate of countercultural resistance in the age of appropriation; the positioning of these works on a wall transformed by General Idea's viral A IDS Wallpaper, 1989; and the kaleidoscoping of the whole ensemble off the reflective, bulbous checks of Jeff Koons's Rabbit, 1 986, itself flanked by photographs of equally shiny bodies by Rodin' Fani-Kayode and Robert Mapplethorpe. …

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