The Whitney Gets Nostalgic for the 80s

The Whitney Museum’s next show into their “new” Meatpacking space, delves into the archives, unearthing works from the best and biggest from the 1980s. Sourced solely from the Museum’s own collection, the show will include pieces from greats like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sherrie Levine and Julian Schnabel, coupled with lesser known artists that made waves in the art world at the time. Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s resurrects the enigmatic energy of the artists working in a traditional medium – without the influence or distractions of the media-overloaded internet age.

Most of us know that New York of the 1980s was a vastly different landscape- one of crumbling neighborhoods, the AIDS epidemic, Reagan politics, and an abysmal economic climate. It was also a time of living bohemia, burgeoning creativity, and a boom of new commercial and artist-run gallery spaces. Creatively, artists were thriving,-with the influx of new media like video art, and with the push-back against the rise of mass media. With this chaos, many artists turned to painting with new excitement and expression.

Fast Forward touches on the corners of the painting explosion, encompassing both well-known artists, and those who briefly shone in the art world of the 1980s. By 1982, Jean-Michel Basquiat was already a breakthrough artist well on his way, meshing his iconic style of graffiti, abstraction and suggestive dichotomies- evident in LNAPRK, painting during  a residency in Italy that year. Other recognizable pieces in the exhibition are Kenny Scharf’s bubbly space-age characters in When the Worlds Collide and Ross Bleckner’s signature spotted oil and wax style, here in the piece Count No Count,  which feels like looking at blurred lights through a rain-soaked window.

Aside from capturing the vigorous energy that fueled the downtown art scene of the 1980s, Fast Forward also gives a satisfying gulp of much-needed nostalgia in the bleak days of New York winter. The exhibition opens January 27 through May 14, and will feature a full calendar of programming through out the duration of the exhibition.

Words by Lori Zimmer