Magazine article Artforum International

Editor's Note

Magazine article Artforum International

Editor's Note

Article excerpt

This is an intermediate moment where people are going to reminisce and at least begin to study the period. But to me it doesn't seem historical because so many of the developments of the '80s... are still unfolding.

Jeff Wall in Art forum, March 2003


1980s for this issue (the first of two devoted to the art of that decade), I phoned a favorite--and famously "difficult"--contributor, who had made his name as a critic in those years. His response, while on the face of it astonishing, didn't entirely surprise me: "I remember nothing of the '80s. Not a thing." Indeed, the retort was fully in character, and I suspected it was little more than a rhetorical flourish aimed at calling me on my shabby conceit of parsing cultural history into tidy decades. He would come around. I felt sure of it.

But three or four subsequent conversations over as many weeks convinced me that the amnesia owed to something deeper than knee-jerk contrariness. Scores of names were proffered in seeming good faith: Those he suggested tended to fall outside the decade (by as much as a half-dozen years!); those we supplied were "too obvious" or, alternately, "interesting, worthy, but..."--always a but--"did that really happen in the '80s?" he would ask incredulously. "I very much doubt it!" As the weeks wore on, I came to think of the "'80s gap" as a symptom--a frightening symptom (this voracious intelligence stone blank on a full third of his adult life)--and at the same time as a merry bit of madness, comical in a man-who-mistook-his-wife-for-a-hat mode, hinting at some larger truth.

The larger truth is that the '80s remain something of an open wound--not just in terms of the toxic residue of greed and glamour (the "excess" of the journalistic cliche) but simply because of the decade's proximity: There is a traumatic aspect to the process of coming to terms with a period whose developments are, as Wall observed, "still unfolding." If the '80s are in one sense decidedly behind us, they are also very much with us--the "Warholism" (the elided portion of Wall's quote) apparent in every neo-Pop recurrence no less than in the passion of antithetical response is only one example. And while the art and criticism of the '60s and '70s feels comfortably canonical, with young art historians today earning doctorates and producing reams of manuscript on the period, the decade that follows, beyond the few primary anthologies that have settled into college curricula, remains, on the level of secondary study, largely untouched. …

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