NYC 1980s art scene
November 20, 2012 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Art buffs of Mefi, please tell me about exciting things that were happening in the New York City art scene in the early 1980s.

Preface: I know absolutely nothing about art history. I'm genuinely so hopeless I don't even know where to start. With that said, here are some vague questions that might give you a jumping off point:

--Were there any trends in different types of media at that time? Was it big for sculpture or textiles or collage, etc?
--What about styles or messages or schools of art philosophy?
--Who were the artists doing interesting things during this time period?
--What kinds of jobs were there for people with an artist background?

I'm primarily interested in NYC, but if there are bigger trends you think I should know about, feel free. Book/article recs would be good, too.
posted by marginaliana to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A Big Thing going on in the NYC theater scene in the early 80s (well, the late-early-80s) was AIDS. This was just around the time that AIDS began to kill off huge swaths of the arts community, and this was also the time the community started reacting to it. You can read more about AIDS theater here.
posted by griphus at 8:33 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Robert Mapplethorpe was active as a photographer in New York throughout the 1980s. And became (in)famous across the US in the late 80s or early 90s, though that was more down to the subject matter of his photos than his technique or style. There was also Jean-Michael Basquiat.
posted by K.P. at 8:38 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keith Haring. Julian Schnabel. Jonathan Borofsky. And that's just what I remember off the top of my head (the Jonathan Borofsky show at the Whitney in, um, 85 maybe? rocked my world entirely) on my way to work. A minute's googling got me this article, mentions some good names, Cindy Sherman, Jean Michel Basquiat. I lived there and painted big semi abstracts and never became a famous artist although I did manage to eat okay at gallery openings every Friday and Saturday night. Um. The Starn twins. Gilbert and George.

In the late 80s I saw a performance at CBs Performance Space (a short lived part of CBGBs that was art focused) where two Asian women dressed in American flags proceeded to take them off and then burn them and I think there was some body painting going on and also some smearing of food if I recall correctly. It made no sense whatsoever but it felt extremely cool and all of us who were there - all, say, 20 people - also felt extremely cool. Later I would look back on that and think, you know, I was part of the art scene in the east village in the 80s. Also I had a friend named Red Ed who went to every opening dressed all in red with a big parrot on his shoulder.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:38 AM on November 20, 2012

Nan Goldin chronicled a lot of this with her photography of herself, her friends and associates in the Lower East Side. I'd certainly look at her output from the late seventies through to the late eighties. Her style was hugely influential on later photographers and she was later considered one of the proponents of "heroin chic."
posted by MuffinMan at 8:39 AM on November 20, 2012

Performance Art. Yeah, of course Laurie Anderson but from an entirely different direction, there was a guy called Mr Apology who had an answering machine where you could leave confessions.
posted by Rash at 8:40 AM on November 20, 2012

Also, did you mean specifically the visual arts? The early 80s were also a time where the performing arts and the visual arts were really intermixing, so if you focus your research specifically on the visual arts, it'll paint a rather myopic view.
posted by griphus at 8:40 AM on November 20, 2012

Don't forget David Wojnarowicz.
posted by bcwinters at 8:46 AM on November 20, 2012

Music videos and computer graphics were just starting to be explored in the early 1980's. I was in school in NYC at that time, and those were the hip things to be learning/doing.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:02 AM on November 20, 2012

Guerrilla Girls
posted by matildaben at 9:41 AM on November 20, 2012

The legitimization of graffiti as an art form was a big part of early 80s art. Identity politics was a focus of many artists.

One of the best resources for the time period you're asking about is The Downtown Book. There is a companion site that was set up for an exhibition of this material, called The Downtown Show.

Another show that you might want to check out is This Will Have Been: Art, Love, Politics in the 1980s. There are some resources at that link, but the catalogue is really worthwhile.
posted by kelegraph at 10:05 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is a 2009 documentary that has some unreleased home video and is as much about the culture Basquiat inhabited in NYC as it is about him. Julian Schnabel made a scripted biopic, Basquiat, which includes a number of people who were part of the 80s art scene playing composite characters. The documentary is a better film but, to me, the interesting thing about this one is that it's Schnabel making a movie about Basquiat with a cast that includes David Bowie, Gary Oldman, and Dennis Hopper - none of whom were strangers to that scene.

The Universe of Keith Haring is another good documentary that uses interviews (Yoko Ono, Madonna, David LaChappelle, Fab 5 Freddy) and archival footage to set the context in which Haring and Basquiat flourished.

All three are currently available on streaming Netflix in the US.
posted by catlet at 12:21 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grandmaster Flash and the transition of hip hop from block parties in the projects to more mainstream outlets. Lots of crossover with the graffiti artists.

See if you can find Wild Style from 1983.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:25 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a wider understanding of graffiti and it's impact upon the city, there's a book called Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City: How Graffiti Became an Urban Crisis in New York City, which I would recommend.

Also? 1980s New York had loads of stuff going on. Painting, performance, and gallery representation all went through some exciting changes during this period.
posted by The River Ivel at 1:09 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your profile lists your location as Boston - if yes, you have a fabulous opportunity to visit the show referenced by kelegraph above, as it's a current exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art: This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.
posted by macska at 5:08 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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