This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s
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This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s

Throughout the 1980s, a series of ruptures permanently changed the character of the art world. Art veered between radical and conservative, capricious and political, socially engaged and art-historically aware. Even as Reaganomics dramatically expanded art as a luxury commodity, postmodernism further challenged the very status of representation and shifted artists’ sense of their role in society. This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s surveys these and other developments with more than 100 works, including paintings, sculpture, photography, video, audio, works on paper, and documentary material by some 80 artists.

Four sections bring together competing factions of this transformative decade. “The End Is Near” explores the end of painting, the end of the counterculture, and the end of history. “Democracy” focuses on artists’ work in the street and their burgeoning awareness and exploitation of mass media, as well as a broader commitment to the political and the increased prominence of Central American artists and artists of color. “Gender Trouble” shows work evolving out of 1970s feminism, expanding gender roles and addressing new ideas about sexuality and the human figure in art. “Desire and Longing” presents the art of appropriation in relation to the growing visibility of queer culture sparked by the AIDS crisis.

In deliberately crossing these themes, this contentious exhibition counters the cynicism and irony with which art of this period is sometimes viewed. It presents a vivid portrait of artists struggling with their wants, needs, and desires in an era of political and aesthetic urgency—and situates our contemporary moment within the history of art of the recent past.

A comprehensive catalogue, featuring essays by exhibition curator Helen Molesworth and art historians Kobena Mercer, Frazer Ward, and Johanna Burton, accompanies the exhibition.

Curator: Helen Molesworth, chief curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

Walker coordinating curator: Bartholomew Ryan

Tour Schedule

  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
    February 11–June 3, 2012
  • Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
    June 30–September 30, 2012
  • Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
    October 26, 2012–January 27, 2013


  • This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

    Lead support is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris: Caryn and King Harris, Katherine Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam and Joe Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, and Stephanie and John Harris. Major support is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Helen and Sam Zell. Additional support is provided by Neil G. Bluhm; Andrea and Jim Gordon, The Edgewater Funds; Dakis and Lietta Joannou; Susan and Lew Manilow; the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation; Agnes Gund; David C. & Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation; Marilyn and Larry Fields; The Broad Art Foundation; Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin; Glenstone; Luhring Augustine Gallery; and Per Skarstedt.

    The Walker Art Center’s presentation is made possible by generous support from Lisa and Pat Denzer and Frances and Frank Wilkinson. Additional support is provided by Susan and Rob White. Media partner Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

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