The 1980's not only changed the art world forever but it elevated that gay rights movement onto a national platform. It was a decade of reaction— to the idealism and narcissism of the 1970's and the demands of feminism, Stonewall, and the ever-present television. It was in the 1980's that powerful social forces and image oversaturation converged in explosive form —in the streets and art mediums.
The new Boston ICA show, This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980's, is the first American retrospective of this era at a major art museum. Curated by Helen Molesworth, the Barbara Lee Endowed Chief Curator of the ICA, the show's queerness permeates as the onlooker moves through the show's four rooms. The queer voice comes through strongly as art inspired by the AIDS crisis, same-sex love and relationships, and erotica are prominently displayed through the four distinct themed rooms of the show—Gender Trouble, The End is Near, Democracy, and Desire and Longing.
Most notably, in the End is Near part of the exhibit, AIDS Wallpaper (1989) is hung a literal and symbolic backdrop to all of the art in the room. In the Democracy hall, Donald Moffett's Call the White House (1990), is AIDS protest art featuring the White House's phone number and imploring the viewer to call President Bush and tell him “we're not dead yet”. Keith Haring is also shown drawing his signature graffiti art on the New York City subway system (1986). Several of Robert Mapplethorpe’s Male Nude (1983) series are hung prominently—pun intended—in the Desire and Longing. G. B Jones' “riot grrl” lesbian erotica drawings (1988) of biker chicks and tattoo girls (ala Tom of Finland) make nice accompaniment.
The show is so imbued with queerness that I asked Molesworth how she came to curate the show with so many examples of gay art. Molesworth, herself a married lesbian, said that, “The story of the 1980's cannot be told unless you discuss Act Up and the AIDS crisis—which was the most important political movement of my lifetime. The response of the gay community was massive and it was felt everywhere. To show the 1980's you must show the creation of the modern gay rights movement.”
The show is a must see and a great edition to the events happening in coordination with the AIDS Action Committee's events on World AIDS Day on December 1st. The schedule of events at the Boston ICA for World AIDS day are:
12 noon: Documentary: United in Anger: A History of Act Up
2 p.m.: Spotlight Talks: Featuring talks by artists in the gallery who were personally affected by the AIDS Crisis
3 p.m.: Documentary: We Were Here: The AIDS Years in San Francisco
This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s
November 15, 2012–March 3, 2013
The Institute of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02210