articles
todd
camplin
2014
URBAN THEATER: NEW YORK ART IN THE 1980s
at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
by Todd Camplin

Open up an art book about the 1980’s and without much exception you will find every artist in
the current show at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. I found myself walking as slow as
possible in order to consider every possible image. I only became aware of many of these
artists when taking a contemporary art class as an undergraduate, in the early 90’s. By then,
the moment and even the lives of some of these artists had past. Their influences on the
next generation of artists and the emerging art market is incalculable.
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1980’s was just a prelude to the hyper 80’s we live in today. The rich are getting richer, more
people are become celebrities for less and less of a good reason, and injustices persist for
class, gender, and race. Only then, critics were loud like the Guerilla Girls. Their posters of
protest exposed institutions said or unsaid policies of inequality. Barbara Kruger gave us
short twitter like messages in her images to warn us not to be fooled by consumerism. A
consumer culture that was rapidly finding new markets in the art world. Jeff Koons’
vacuum cleaners in a display box was in the show. This was at the height of his
conceptual work, before he took the easy road of pure kitsch.
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Graffiti came into the gallery with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. An abundance of
mediocre graffiti to gallery artists have followed. Haring maintained his street style, while
Basquiat emerged out of his street roots to become part of the Neo-Expressionist. I wish there
were a few more Basquiat’s and a few less Haring’s, but both were worth seeing as examples
of the era and evolution of artists. Painting continued to thrive despite the rising skepticism for
the life of the medium. Eric Fischl had a provocative narrative image that had a bit more
punch because the image was a painting. I somehow associated Christopher Wool with
the 1990’s, but I guess his roots are in the 80’s. His word pieces are often made to slow your
ability to read the words rapidly and then move on. He has painted his canvas like a cheap
sign with stencils. The messages are collected from popular culture, but come off cold as his
black and white stark image. Philip Taaffe’s Op like painting mesmerized me, yet felt familiar
because a few Texas artists are still working in the same vein.

Keith Haring
Red, 1982–84
Gouache and ink on paper
106 3⁄4 x 274 inches
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
© Haring Foundation
Jeff Koons
New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Red, Brown, New Hoover Deluxe
Shampoo Polishers, Yellow, Brown Doubledecker, 1981-87
Three vacuum cleaners, two shampoo polishers, and fluorescent lights in
Plexiglas casing
Overall 82 5/8 x 54 x 28 inches
Courtesy: Glenstone
Photo: Tim Nighswander
© Jeff Koons
Untitled (I Shop therefore I Am), 1987
Photographic silkscreen on vinyl
111 x 113 inches
Courtesy: Glenstone
Photo: Tim Nighswander
© Barbara Kruger
an important art medium coincide
Robert Longo
Untitled (Men in Cities series), 1981
Charcoal, graphite, and dye on paper
98 x 48 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2014 Robert Longo / Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York