What's So Hot About the '80s?
Sally Browne, [Queensland, Australia] Courier Mail (15 November 2003)
Why are the '80s the hottest new thing? Probably because the decade is now at a safe distance from reality, writes Sally Browne
IT'S 1983. You've stocked up on your hair spray and ironed your thin tie. You're excited because tonight you're off to see your favourite band, Human League, and rumour has it that Kim Wilde and Belinda Carlisle (let's hope she notices you) are on the bill.
Prince was absolutely amazing last month and you've already got your tickets for Bowie and Duran Duran. Could life for a 1980s child get any better?
But wait. This isn't 1983. This is 2003, or "Here and Now" as the promoters of tonight's 1980s reunion concert at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre have made plain.
In case you haven't noticed, the 1980s are back.
Signs of it are everywhere. Cruise past any Sportsgirl outlet and you'll see the influences of Madonna and Belinda Carlisle's Go-Gos in the form of off-the-shoulder shirts, fishnets and dangly earnings.
Pop star J-Lo has even made those daggy velour tracksuits acceptable again.
Turn on the radio and you'll hear Dead or Alive, Gary Numan and New Order cut-and-pasted into new danced-up tunes. Countdown, the TV show, is soon to be made into Countdown, the film.
It's all back, except the shoulder pads....
The 1980s saw the advent of the culture "greed is good". This was the decade when style became substance, as did a lack of style, lest we forget neon socks and ra-ra skirts.
Clubs became fire hazards as hairspray jostled for air space with the outpouring of smoke machines. In London, the New Romantic movement, then the height of avant-garde, was spawned at The Blitz nightclub, where Adam Ant rubbed shoulders with Duran Duran on the dance floor and a young Boy George worked the cloakroom....
THERE'S a precise maths to retro. It takes at least three years after a decade has ended for it to be neatly encapsulated and labelled, and about 20 years for it to come back in again.
Lecturer in cultural studies at Griffith University David Ellison says it's the combination of a remembered innocence and nostalgia, and a safe distance from embarrassment, that brings things back into fashion.
"Fashion takes things which are distinctive and even embarrassing and re-uses them because they're sort of charged with a cultural energy of memory," he says.
Most of the designers of today were growing up in the 1980s, and so they draw on their own nostalgic images of the time....
....Peter Carey: He started the decade with a Miles Franklin Award for Bliss, and finished on an even higher note, with the Australian literary milestone, Oscar and Lucinda, winning the 1989 Miles and the Booker.
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1983): In 1983 the world became engrossed in the tale of William of Baskerville, a medieval Sherlock Holmes who investigates a series of murders in a monastery where books are off-limits and laughter is forbidden.
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985): Atwood's novel described a dystopic near-future in which a fascist theocracy had taken control of the US. A feminist and environmentalist warning, it proved a chart-topper.
Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities (1987): A cutting expose of 1980s capitalist America when "greed was good"....
Jeff Koons: The ultimate 1980s artist, Jeff Koons started as a Wall Street broker before turning to art, where he paid others to construct his kitsch creations.
Keith Haring: US artist Keith Haring's dancing little stickmen were everywhere in the '80s. His upbeat cartoon style and message-infused images spawned much mimicry in design and advertising.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Basquiat, a Warhol protege, started his brief career in New York in the graffiti scene. Known as "the Radiant Child", he was swept up in the self-obsessed art world before dying of a drug overdose in 1988....
The Berlin Wall: In the 1980s, the Berlin Wall became Europe's largest canvas. Erected in 1961, during the 1980s it became a major icon of freedom as international artists contributed to its ever-changing political statement. It was demolished in 1989, marking the end of a decade, and the end of an era.
Duran Duran: The band of the 1980s with Simon Le Bon the lead singer. The British group turned the cutting-edge New Romantic movement into a worldwide phenomenon....
Michael Jackson: His moonwalk in 1983 captured a generation's attention, with Thriller entering The Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling album in history, shifting more than 50 million copies worldwide.
Madonna: The material girl will always belong to the material decade. Thanks, Madonna, for crosses, lace, fingerless gloves, pseudo-feminism -- oh, and records.
INXS: Australia's answer to the global pop phenomenon, the band transcended continents, and, unlike many contemporaries, transcended a decade.
The Eurythmics: The Eurythmics were instrumentalist Dave Stuart and singer Annie Lennox, whose powerful voice and androgynous look made her an icon of the decade. In 1984, they released the George Orwell-inspired album 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother).
An example of Keith Haring's art
Pieces of Eighties
They've got the big hair. They've got the yelping voices. But if today's bands are going to sound more like their idols from the 1980s, how are they going to do it?
John Robinson, The [London] Guardian (24 April 2004)
You start by hearing Echo And The Bunnymen, and finish up with Tears For Fears. In between, there's a fantastic tale, and a vision of a rabbit. And yes, until recently, the place you'd be most likely to witness all this would be in Richard Kelly's excellent movie Donnie Darko. Lately, though, it's become difficult not to recognise that an individual hearing epic and adventurous pop music of the 1980s wherever they go might not necessarily be such a far-fetched idea. The vocal inflections of the Cure's Robert Smith in the music of the Rapture and Hot Hot Heat. The grand and cinematic guitar epics of Echo And The Bunnymen in the excellent album by the Stills, or material by the Open or Longview. The intelligent and funky avant rock of Gang Of Four or Japan in the likes of Franz Ferdinand. Even in No Doubt's recent cover version of Talk Talk's magnificent It's My Life. They've all got it down perfectly. But where to next? How to better emulate these terrific bands? By following these simple examples, anything should really be possible. . .
Use dry ice
To some, dry ice will forever remain frozen carbon dioxide, that versatile refrigerant. To the 1980s rock band, however, it and its cousin the smoke machine helped to plunge the audience into a state of personal disorientation as great as that of the band they had come to see....
Bully/row with your band members
Beneath the long overcoats, discontent was often simmering in the 1980s band. With drugs and egomania holding them ransom in 1987, for example, Echo And The Bunnymen once flew their US management across America to arbitrate between them. Fried on psychedelic drugs during the sessions for their third album, Julian Cope chased Teardrop Explodes keyboard player David Balfe (later boss of Food Records and subject of Blur's Country House) across the Welsh countryside with a shotgun. King of feuds, however, was to be found in the Cure, between singer Robert Smith and former schoolfriend Lol Tolhurst. Asked why he victimised his drummer/keyboard player, Smith replied: "Because he's so useless."
If existence precedes essence, it certainly never did so as convincingly as when accompanied by guitars. In 1979, the Cure's first single "Killing An Arab" provided a condensed version of the Camus story The Outsider, while in the 1980s they persevered gamely, taking the essential tenets of dread and anxiety with them wherever they went. Echo And The Bunnymen, meanwhile, took the ideas of personal freedom and commitment to the next level. "This reaching beyond your grasp, self against the universe-type theme," says Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips, "was, to me, what the band embodied all along."
Go behind the iron curtain
On the cusp of the late 1970s and early 1980s, a lot of kudos could be gained by presenting oneself not as a pop group, but as much like a citizen of an eastern bloc country as was possible without actually having to wear a headscarf and queue for vegetables....This was an odd world of communique and manifesto, and it still (witness Franz Ferdinand, British Sea Power and Bloc Party) enjoys a considerable allure....
Get yourself a visionary or other eccentric genius
If Paul Weller and the Jam made music that bore an unbearably close resemblance to the grimness of 1980s life, there were those who could not be touched by such temporal things. Japan's David Sylvian and Talk Talk's Mark Hollis made triumphant, completely unmarketable records (Brilliant Trees; Spirit Of Eden) at the peak of their commercial success. Mike Scott of the Waterboys made music he described as "a metaphor for seeing God's signature in the world". Even Tears For Fears spent years endlessly refining what they held to be their masterwork, Seeds Of Love. Last word, though, goes to Julian Cope. He invented an alternate world where he was called Kevin Stapleton, and his band was called Whopper. It didn't really work out, no.
Reverberate a great deal
Or, as the shorthand had it then, "be produced by Steve Lillywhite". He was young, he was cool and his brother was in the Members. But most significantly, prodigious lord of the soundboard Lillywhite wasn't averse to slotting in sessions with surly 23-year-olds in black clothes in between performing high-profile, big-budget duties for more mature clients like Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, U2, the Psychedelic Furs. . . they entered his court wanting to sound like the Velvet Underground. They emerged pristine and echoing, and just a touch heroic....
Perform at strange events
A sense of the portentous and occasionally mystical could often hang over live events in the 1980s. Particular offenders in this respect might be seen to be the Cure, who during a particularly dark period performed The Fourteen Explicit Moments tour (and then lightened up shortly afterwards). Meanwhile, in 1980 Echo And The Bunnymen could be found playing in venues under the influence of Apocalypse Now and, more specifically, under a huge canopy of camouflage. On another occasion, they played an apparently random series of locations. "It's not random," said Bill Drummond at the time. "If you look at a map of the world, the tour's in the shape of a rabbit's ears."
Listen to the Velvet Underground
Oh, go on. A bit more can't hurt, can it?
Lessons for U.S. From A Shiite Uprising in Lebanon
Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor (20 April 2004)
With US troops poised outside the Shiite holy city of Najaf ready to "capture or kill" the maverick cleric Moqtada Sadr, the US-led coalition would do well to ponder the lesson of another young Shiite cleric from south Lebanon.
His name was Sheikh Ragheb Harb, and in the early 1980s he was the relatively unknown imam of Jibsheet village. After Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Sheikh Harb, inspired by the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, exhorted his handful of followers to rise up against the occupation. He challenged the prevailing orthodoxy of the Shiite clergy, who balked at using violence against the powerful Israeli army.
But Israel's measures to quash the nascent resistance caused civilian suffering, discouraging Shiite leaders from criticizing Sheikh Harb's violent tactics. Israel's repression helped fuel popular support for the resistance, and 18 years after the invasion, Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon.
Some veteran observers of south Lebanon see parallels between Israel's confrontation with Lebanese Shiites in the 1980s and the US-led coalition's campaign against Sadr in Iraq.
"The similarities between Iraq today and south Lebanon [in the 1980s] are very striking," says Timur Goksel, a university lecturer in Beirut who served with the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon from 1979 to 2003. "Even the language of American military commanders is the same as Israeli commanders back in the 1980s, talking of wiping out the enemy. But if you go in to wipe them out, then you will lose."
....The US military has been criticized for adopting counterinsurgency tactics previously used by Israeli forces in Lebanon and more recently in the West Bank and Gaza, such as bulldozing houses of suspected militants, sealing off villages with razor wire, mass detentions, and excessive use of firepower.
It was similar tactics by Israel in the 1980s, coupled with a growing perception that Israeli forces had no intention of a swift departure, that goaded the Lebanese Shiites to turn to armed resistance.
As Sheikh Harb's small cells of fighters exacted a growing toll, the Israelis hit back. Sheikh Harb was shot dead in Jibsheet in February 1984 by Israeli-paid assassins, thousands of residents were sent to detention camps, and houses of suspected militants were dynamited.
Still, the Israelis were taken aback by the suddenness and resilience of the Shiite resistance. Just two years earlier, the same people had welcomed the invading Israeli troops with showers of rose petals and rice, grateful at the departure of the Palestinian fighters whose attacks into Israel from south Lebanon had brought heavy retaliation against Lebanese villages.
In December 1984, then-Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told Augustus Richard Norton, a former UN observer in south Lebanon, that the Shiites had emerged from a bottle "like a genie."
"This tells you that Rabin had no clue of the history of the political mobilization of the Shiites that had been going on in front of his eyes," says Mr. Norton, a professor of anthropology at Boston University. "The fundamental mistake the Israelis made was to stay. By staying, the Israelis forced the moderates to get off the fence and to resist."
As with all such analogies, there are important differences. The Shiites had nothing to lose politically by launching a resistance campaign. In Iraq, however, the Shiite leadership expects to gain from Saddam Hussein's ousteras Shiites represent some 60 percent of the population. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's pre-eminent Shiite cleric, so far has advocated cautious cooperation with the coalition and appears to have played a leading role, via his son, in the negotiations to end the standoff with Sadr....
Those '80s Toys Are a Hit Again with Little Girls
Heather Sokoloff, [Canada] National Post (8 December 2003)
Retailers are hoping updated and re-released toys from the 1980s -- among them Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite and Care Bears -- will win over a new generation of little girls this Christmas.
More than two million My Little Pony products have been sold in the past six months in North America, said David Davenport, president of Hasbro Canada and spokesman for the Canadian Toy Association. "And we expect there are a lot more hidden under children's beds waiting to be opened up at Christmas."
The wee winking horses got a makeover for their re-release this September. Their muted mauve and blue hides and manes were brightened with the pinks and fuchsias preferred by kids today.
The 2003 incarnation of Strawberry Shortcake sports jeans and a pullover instead of a red and white pinafore, and her aromatic companions have gone multicultural. About 75,000 of the scented dolls have been sold in Canada since their release in March.
Mr. Davenport said the retro toys are being marketed to a narrower age group than the originals, because by the time today's girls hit seven or eight, they want fashion dolls, toy makeup kits and other playthings that make them feel more grown-up....
The original Shortcake, of which more than $1.5-billion sold between 1980 and 1985, was modelled after Holly Hobby, the hit doll of the '60s and '70s. Looking for the next trend after rag-doll Holly's sales began to dwindle, American Greetings' researchers found that little girls said their favourite things were little flowers and strawberries -- and the scented, plastic Strawberry Shortcake was born.
American Greetings largely stopped licensing Strawberry Shortcake products after 1985....
Manufacturers say they have mostly tried to remain true to the originals, even digging up market research conducted more than two decades ago. In the case of Strawberry Shortcake, there was an attempt to improve the technology used to give the dolls their fruity aroma, but the original low-tech scratch 'n sniff proved to be the most effective....
Montrealer Alison Kirstein, 28, said she "totally flipped" when she saw her four-year-old niece, Samantha, playing with a pink My Little Pony -- just like the one she played with when the toy was originally released in 1983.
Now she wants to buy Samantha a Strawberry Shortcake doll.
Samantha's mother, Bonnie Plotnick, said she likes the 1980s toys because of their whimsy and innocence.
"Not that I won't let her play with Barbie," Ms. Plotnick said. "But this is a nice break. It's such a sweet toy."
The revival of the '80s toys traces its roots to Sept. 11, 2001. The mass murders of that day made consumers yearn for simplicity and innocence. Manufacturers are yearning to cash in.
While some old toys had disappeared altogether, others hung on to their spot on store shelves, although their sales peaked years ago. Hasbro has been promoting the 40th anniversary of Easy-Bake Oven. The company's Web site promotes old favourites Lite-Brite and Operation. Cabbage Patch Kids, the best-selling doll of all time, have quietly remained on the shelves of Toys 'R' Us, even though the company that originally produced the dolls has long since gone out of business....
Manufacturers are not targeting little girls alone. They also woke up to thriving online collectors' sites, where fans and speculators buy and sell old 1980s products.
And tween and teenage followers of the 1980s fashion craze are buying pajamas and T-shirts emblazoned with the likes of Care Bears or Rainbow Brite, although they would not be caught dead playing with the toys and dolls.
"Care Bears are a little glam now," joked Deborah Thompson, director of marketing for Carlton Cards, the company that produces Care Bears in Canada, with product sales expected to reach $15-million this year.
Living In a Material World
Unabashed glamour ruled one side of the Eighties fashion universe
James Sherwood, The Independent [London] (8 January 2004)
In fashion terms, the 1980s is the decade that refuses to die. The runway may reference the roaring Twenties, the swinging Sixties and the sinful Seventies, but designers as diverse as Luella Bartley, Jeremy Scott, Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga and Stella McCartney just can't resist the decade when greed was good and shoulder pads soared like the wingspan of a 747. Those of us in our prime during the Eighties may have a less rose-tinted perspective than the designers who were tweenies when Madonna made lace leggings, a slutty tutu, bangles and a Boy Toy belt mandatory for every wannabe worth her neon lippy. We recall not Linda Evangelista in thigh-skimming Versace chain mail but goofy Melanie Griffiths pairing an ill-fitting power suit with clunky sneakers and sporting a perm she could go trick-or-treating in. Fashion's memory is selective. To watch the revivalists at work, you'd think everyone back then knew how to work that legwarmer and stiletto look. In reality there was no legwarmer and stilettos look outside A Chorus Line. Ra-ra skirts over legwarmers under peplum jackets over teabag Ts - topped off with a pair of tights wound round your head - looked more like Toni Basil or Bernadette Peters in Tell Me On A Sunday than Danceteria or Mudd Club cool.
"Excess: Fashion and the Underground in the 80s" is a major retrospective dedicated to reminding us what Eighties fashion did for us. The show will be unveiled in Florence this evening at the Stazione Leopolda as the star exhibit of the city's bi-annual men's fashion showcase Pitti Immagine Uomo. It is co-curated by Stefano Tonchi, the style editor of The New York Times, and Maria Luisa Frisa.
"The show has been germinating for two years," says Tonchi, "as we noticed how the young generation were fascinated with the energy, creativity and individuality of the 1980s." Thatcher's children may recall the capitalist tidal wave that valued affluence over artistic pursuits but Tonchi disagrees. "The fashion system with a capital F' may have been born in the Eighties but the earlier part of the decade also saw a subversive underground personified by Leigh Bowery, the Blitz club and designers such as Body Map, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood."
Instead of taking the decade in fashion and design as a series of "good, bad and ugly" cliches, Tonchi and Frisa identified three major fashion movements in the 1980s that they subtitled Superbody, Transbody and Postbody. Iconic pieces are exhibited to theme in vast illuminated freight containers while walls of TV screens and thumping Eighties music enhance the mood. The audience for Excess will begin by being led through a tunnel depicting the death of John Lennon: "A defining moment that signified the end the 1970s," says Frisa. Superbody oversees the gym culture of "Let's Get Physical", when fashion designers pumped-up the volume and created armour-plated clothing for the superheroes of Wall Street. We see Thierry Mugler's power suits with miniskirts as short and tight as a congressman's denial and 90-degree shoulder pads, Claude Montana's black leather biker quilted to match abdominal muscles and Gaultier's conical-breasted satin goddess dresses.
....Blow- ups of Calvin Klein and Armani underwear ad campaigns underline the cult of perfection that has long survived the death of the decade. A soundtrack of Kraftwerk, Gary Newman and Grace Jones tells the "Slave to the Rhythm" story of Eighties body fascism. "Remember, this was the first time women could have as much sex, power and money as men could," says Tonchi.
English fashion followers would feel most at home in the Transbody section; chronicling anti-establishment club and street-inspired clothing from the radicals. It is here that we see the genesis of Vivenne Westwood from den mother of Seventies punk to subversive English first lady of fashion....
The Eighties was a particularly rich era for young British fashion. Westwood's seminal mini-crini collection happened in 1984 and redefined body shape via the 18th century. In the same year Workers for Freedom, Rifat Ozbek and Richmond Cornejo launched own-labels. Body Map and John Flett were also making waves. 1987 will go down in fashion history for the launch of Christian Lacroix Haute Couture in Paris and "Les Incroyables" - John Galliano's graduation collection from St Martins. All are represented in Excess even though it would have been nice to see more of Lacroix's glorious puffballs and Westwood's Watteauesque ballgowns....
But the star exhibit has to be Madonna's "Like A Virgin" costume remade in its entirety by stylist/ artist Maripol and flanked by Polaroids of the Material Girl in genesis. Rumour has it Maripol has already remade the slut/ bride outfit for Madonna's own costume museum. It is as powerful an icon of the age as Helmut Newton's Dressed/ Undressed photographs, Philippe Starck's stiletto chair or Chanel's gilt and quilt handbag (all on show).
"The Eighties, the real underground Eighties, made for some radical changes in fashion, music and media," says Peter De Potter who curates the final "Neo-80s" section of the exhibition. "Young designers like Nicolas Ghesquiere, Luella Bartley and Jeremy Scott decidedly reworked the kind of geometrical shapes and sharp looks that defined the Eighties aesthetic, while more introspective designers like Raf Simons, Veronique Branquinho and Bernhard Willhelm reminisced about their teenage memories from that decade."
....Transbody is probably the most interesting aspect of late-Eighties fashion because it defies tired, tacky cliches of Richard Gere/ Melanie Griffiths and concentrates on the artistry of the era's fashion design. These clothes could be alternatively titled Anti-Body because they chronicle the time from 1983 when the Japanese first showed on the Paris runway and Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo brought their eyes to fashion; reassessing clothing for the mind rather than the body. The intellectual merit of these clothes is unquestionable: from Kawakubo's Comme des Garcons cut-and-shut shift and pleated prom dress to Miyake's origami cutting technique. Early Comme, Yohji and Issey may have lost some of its shock value after being referenced by everyone from Jil Sander and Helmut Lang to Martin Margiela and Hussein Chalayan, but the deconstruction/ reconstruction movement remains a startling rebuff to the Nolan Miller sequin schlockfest that was Alexis and Krystle in Dynasty (a show that began with the decade and ended in 1989).
However, it's not the Japanese who emerge as the stars of the Excess show. Moschino, the great Italian Surrealist lost to AIDS, emerges as a true hero of the decade, with his power suit emblazoned with gold knives and forks in place of buttons....Equally impressive are pieces of Eighties Romeo Gigli including an opera cloak trapping dried flowers between layers of organdie. Gigli's romantic silhouette references Paul Poiret just as surely as Moschino echoes surrealist mistress Schiaparelli. But their reinvention for an Eighties audience resonates. They earn a place in fashion history for understanding the past and reinterpreting it for the future. Great design refuses to die or be pinned down to a decade.
The renegade magazine Charley and the more established Artforum have recently offered conflicting, if similarly flawed, views of the art of the 1980s
Raphael Rubinstein, Art in America, December 2003
Over the last half year or so, there seems to have been an upsurge of interest in the art and art world of the 1980s. Last spring, Artforum devoted two entire issues (March and April) to the decade, calling upon several dozen critics, art historians and artists to revisit the era. During the summer came "Bright Lights, Big City," an exhibition of art from the 1980s and early 1990s at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, and an issue of the artist-created magazine Charley that covered more or less the same period....
Somewhat ahead of the curve in reviewing the 1980s was the Scandinavian art magazine Nu, which, in early 2001, devoted 30 pages of an issue to the decade. Nu's '80s section featured an introduction by culture maven Glenn O'Brien...and a kind of symposium in which 100 people offered their memories and assessments of the decade....
As we all know, it has long been the practice of the fashion and entertainment industries to recycle "decades" with shameless regularity. Since this marketing strategy is not unknown to art-world tastemakers, a revival of'80s art could probably have been predicted almost to the month. Given this predictability, I prefer not to get caught up in the question of why the 1980s are reemerging at this particular moment. What I think might be interesting, however, is to examine the different ways in which the recent past has been presented. To this end, I want to say a few words about Charley, which takes a very unusual approach to the subject, and to contrast it with the Artforum numbers.
Founded last year by Italian-born, New York-based artist Maurizio Cattelan, and funded by the Deste Foundation in Athens, Greece, Charley has so far been published three times, on each occasion with strikingly different content and format....
This has certainly happened with the third issue, which came out in July....[I]t is striking, first of all, for the fact that it contains not a single bit of original material. All of its contents, including the cover, are rephotographed pages from other publications, specifically art magazines and exhibition catalogues from the late 1970s through the early 1990s (only a half-dozen pages of ads in the back can be counted as "new").....
....Many of the artists are figures who were prominent in the 1980s or early '90s but whose work is not much seen these days. For instance, Charley's cover shows a detail of a 1985 wax bust by Izhar Patkin, a New York-based artist who, after creating a sensation in 1986 with his robber-curtain "Black Paintings," showed extensively in the U.S. and Europe but, in recent years, seems to have dropped from sight, along with several other artists from the Holly Solomon Gallery. It's with mixed feelings that one is reminded, flipping through Charley, of interesting artists such as Patkin, Joel Otterson, Tishau Hsu and Bill Woodrow. Pleasure that images of their work are being put back into circulation mingles with dismay at the price exacted by the art market's relentless hunger for new names and styles....
The magazine includes the work of many other artists with trajectories similar to Otterson's and Hsu's. Nearly every page includes an image and name that will spur a "whatever happened to?" response from seasoned art viewers and a "who is that?" from younger viewers. There's a shot (from a Whitney Biennial catalogue) of one of Wallace and Donahue's wall assemblages, some charcoal sketches by Mike Glier, agitprop installations by Dennis Adams, vignettes and sculptures by Nicolas Africano, Christian Eckart's golf-leaf reliefs, and photographic work by Larry Johnson and Clegg & Guttmann. Among other artists making appearances are onetime East Village luminaries Richard Hambleton and Rodney Allen Greenblatt....
....Included alongside the now overlooked artists I've just mentioned are many who still garner substantial attention, such as Jonathan Lasker, Allen Ruppersberg and Haim Steinbach. This doesn't mean, however, that the editors of Charley have provided anything like a complete picture of art in the 1980s and early '90s. For all their bold rediscoveries, they largely limit themselves to the art seen in a handful of cutting-edge New York galleries.....
Bijl's Composition Trouvee (1990), an array of kitschy plaster casts that the artist must have come upon in some store window, was one of the pleasures of "Bright Lights, Big City." I also enjoyed being reminded of artists such as Cheryl Donegan and Woodrow, who were represented, respectively, by an irreverent performance video and a jagged sculptural tribute to New York City's streets. It was also fun to see Lee Quinones's Blondie (1981), a portrait of pop singer Deborah Harry that was in P.S. 1's "New York/New Wave" show of 1981 and is also reproduced in the first of the Artforum '80s numbers [March, p. 108]. Less thrilling, in fact downright dispiriting, were some 1989 videos and a 1990 sculptural piece by artist team Pruitt & Early. When it was first shown, their work seemed to represent a new low in superficiality and attitudinizing; now it looks like some kind of classic, the inspiration for a thousand shows about the bedrooms of American teenagers. If Donegan's and Woodrow's pieces looked the strongest artistically, Pruitt & Early's was probably the timeliest work in the show, alas....
Not surprisingly, given the two magazines' different characters, the vision of the 1980s proffered by Charley is miles away from the historical view conveyed in Artforum's two-issue survey. This difference resides not so much in the fact that one publication is an anthology of recycled art mags while the other consists of newly minted writing and fresh layouts, but in a less immediately visible contrast. As I've just described, Charley acknowledges the existence of many now marginalized, overlooked artists; Artforum, however, focuses mainly on those artists whose careers are still going strong, whose work seems to have withstood the test of time to the extent that it is still seen in blue-chip galleries. Plenty of Mike Kelley, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Carrol Dunham, but no sign of Patkin, Otterson, Hsu, Hambleton, Yarber, nor of the dozens of other currently out-of-fashion artists to be found in Charley....
Like many other readers, I snatched up the March and April issues of Artforum with much curiosity and was impressed by the considerable editorial efforts that must have gone into them. What ultimately disappointed me, however, was that they contained hardly any new information and presented almost no challenge to the status quo of two decades ago. For instance, the editors could and should have done a much better job in covering the work of African-American artists, rather than pretending they didn't exist. Astonishingly, not a single one of the 33 artists from the '80s who are interviewed is non-white (and, in case you're wondering, women account for six out of the 33....For its part, Charley does an equally dismal job of including minority artists....
And what of the fate of this recent '80s revival? As I sat down to write this piece in early October, the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to the decade its editors believe is newly relevant to the city's current "art and life": you guessed it, the 1970s.
(1.) This was not the first exhibition to borrow the title of Jay McInerney's 1984 novel. The same year the novel was published, poet-critic John You curated a show at Phyllis Kind Gallery in New York titled "Bright Lights, Big City" that included Robert Birmelin, Richard Hull, Archie Rand, Anion Van Dalen and Jim Wilson. In a statement written for the show, You speaks of artists who "evolve a hard and bright vision during a dark time." The title of the David Zwirner show, by contrast, seems to evoke not only a certain nostalgia for 1980s New York, but also the contrast between youthful dreams of glory and the disillusionment that inevitably follows. This multi-lived phrase also shows up in a slightly truncated form ("Bright Light, Big City") as the title to an article by Molly Nesbit in the April 2003 Artforum.
The Eighties Club is not affiliated in any way with any of the publications from which these excerpts were derived, and does not profit in any way from the purchase of the complete articles. These excerpts are provided for educational purposes only.