Politics and US Art of the 1980’s
November 21, 2003 through November 21, 2004
In the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s, leading members of the artistic vanguard in the United States were also dedicated political activists. Involved with the Civil Rights Movement, anti-war protest, and the women’s movement, they organized, lobbied, and marched. But neither the modes of abstraction then dominant, including Minimalism and Color Field painting, nor the language based but equally abstract activities associated with Conceptual art, lent themselves very readily to the expression of nuanced political sentiment.
In the 1980s, a subsequent generation of American artists turned away from abstraction to embrace figuration and other forms of direct representation. Some of its best known and most influential members did so in order to address such issues as racial discrimination, economic injustice, and institutionalized sexism and homophobia. But the same critical apparatus devised to explain the formalist abstractions of the previous generation was still applied to their work, so its sophisticated political-critical content has not been fully explored.
Crimes and Misdemeanors is a focused survey that attempts to redress this art historical blindness. In each of its four overlapping thematic subsections—Haves (and Have-nots), Identity (Constructs), Sex (Kills), and Institutional (Critiques)—now-iconic works from the period are juxtaposed with lesser-known projects by individuals and artist collaboratives, many working outside the museum-gallery-critic network. This juxtaposition foregrounds infrequently discussed political dimensions of the former and sets them in dialogue with the latter, which often critique and undermine the dominant ideological expressions represented in canonical work of the 1980s.