A new exhibit about the 1980s is opening at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring interpretations of icons like Ronald Reagan, Andy Warhol and Jesse Jackson, along with pieces that reflect on important issues from the decade: drug use, nuclear proliferation, AIDS and feminism.
"This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s," opening Saturday, includes about 140 paintings, photographs, movies and sculptures by some of the biggest artists from the era: Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe and Julian Schnabel.
Exhibit chief curator Helen Molesworth, of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, said the financial crisis of 2008 reminded Americans of Black Monday in 1987, priming a look back at the earlier decade. A sequel to the movie "Wall Street" came out in 2010 and chart-topping pop star Lady Gaga channels some of the audacity of 1980s darling Madonna.
"It was time to revisit this period and think what happened then and what is its legacy for us now," Molesworth said.
The 1980s' signature bright neon colors, big hair and graphic elements are present in the exhibit, but the artwork largely focuses on the decade's social and political issues. In a play on Robert Indiana's famous "LOVE" sculpture, which was reproduced on a postage stamp, an entire wall is filled with the same style of block letter design, but instead of "LOVE," the word is "AIDS," in green, blue and red.
In another piece, a red carpet leads to a velvet-roped oil painting of Ronald Reagan set across from a 13-foot-tall black-and-white negative of a nuclear protest. A work by Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres simply displays two clocks side by side, both set to the same time.
Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom rocker Patti Smith wrote about in her 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir "Just Kids," is represented by three pictures of a male model. Black-and-white photographs by Tseng Kwong Chi show Keith Haring's graffiti-inspired drawings in the New York subway system. Both Mapplethorpe and Haring died of AIDS.
"It reiterates how a lot of artists in this time were making art out in the public," coordinating curator Karsten Lund said. "You're getting a show that speaks to pivot points in the decade."
The exhibit is broken up into four categories: "The End is Near," "Democracy," "Gender Trouble" and "Desire and Longing."
"It does take a very particular viewpoint to have us think about the 80s in ways that are beyond money and pop music," MCA chief curator Michael Darling said.
The exhibit includes works from The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It runs in Chicago until June 3. It also will show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis from June 30 to Sept. 30 and at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston from Oct. 26 to Jan. 27 (2013).
If You Go...
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART: 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago; http://www.mcachicago.org or 312-280-2660. Open Tuesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; $12 suggested admission ($7, students and seniors). "This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s" runs Feb. 11-June 3. The show moves to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis June 30-Sept. 30 and The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Oct. 26-Jan. 27 (2013).