Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

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

Feb 11–Jun 3, 2012

The art of the 1980s was shaped profoundly by an exploration of democracy. Although it is an ideal held sacred by many, democracy is also challenging, for at its core it asks us to respect and protect the rights of those we disagree with. For many artists, public spaces such as the street became arenas in which to facilitate encounters with art outside of the rarified space of the museum, and in this section we see artworks that use posters, graffiti, and everyday language to broadcast a social message as widely as possible. This interest in the public sphere was complicated by many artists’ observation that, increasingly, television was replacing the street or the public square as a primary site of democratic debate. Some artists grappled with the new role of the mass media in both political and artistic arenas. The issue of belonging—of who has rights to what, where, and when—lies at the heart of the democratic enterprise. Such issues were to be sorely tested in the 1980s along numerous fronts. Several artists whose work appears in this section made explicit use of immanent critique, a strategy, exemplified by the civil rights movement, that attempts to hold government responsible for remaining true to its highest principles. What all of the artists represented here shared was the belief that art can and should serve as a catalyst for philosophical and political debate.