Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

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

Feb 11–Jun 3, 2012

This section includes works that engage with the implications of the 1970s feminist movement, expanding our understanding of the social construction of gender roles. In the 1980s artists influenced by feminism began to challenge the category “woman,” arguing that it was too homogenous and instead positing that identity is equally inflected by race, sexuality, class, and other, more individual forms of difference. No longer satisfied with a biologically based explanation of the difference between the sexes, 1980s feminism asked: How do we come to find ourselves as gendered people in the world? What are the ramifications of that gendering for our ideas and desires? The idea of gender as a set of performances and poses developed in the 1980s, championed by Judith Butler (American, b. 1956) in her influential book Gender Trouble (1990). As artists explored this idea, they looked to the history of images, focusing specifically on photography, which is the basis of mass media, advertising, and pornography—all of which produce seemingly infinite images of women. Investigating the role such pictures played in the creation of gender, some artists sought to debunk images of masculinity as heroic and suffused with authority. Others explored the physicality of the body, its limits and frailty, side-stepping the problem of gender altogether and contemplating the increasing loss of life due to the AIDS crisis.