THE 80'S: A TOPOLOGY

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  • Front cover image-The 80's A Topology
  • Detail-installation shot-The 80's-A Topology

Ulrich Loocke, Sandra Guimarães, Porto, Portugal, 2006.

Softcover, 428 pp., color & b/w illustrations, 11.5 x 9 x inches.

While the debate on whether the 1980s are best left forgotten continues, this catalogue (in nothing less than a neon pink cover) documents an extensive exhibition curated by Ulrich Loock – which evaluates the artistic output and development of that period. Featuring 80 artists and more than 100 works, all generously documented, the catalogue also contains essays, interviews and an extensive chronology detailing the highlights of each year.

The exhibition, accompanied by an extensive catalogue, presented around 250 works by 70 artists, and was intended as a positive reappraisal of the period. For the most part, the co-curators Ulrich Loocke and Sandra Guimarães stuck fairly squarely to art works originally made in and for gallery and institutional contexts. Without making any impossible claims to completeness, they sought to present an idea of the art of the 1980s at odds with unflattering stereotypes: its rampant commercialism or aesthetic heavy-handedness, for instance. The show also allowed new emphases to emerge in light of contemporary art practice; a practice that has, in many ways, been weaned on a diet of stoic Conceptualism and Minimalist display, but that probably has more in common with 1980s art than is generally acknowledged – particularly in terms of its pluralism and of the culturally and politically neo-conservative climate in which it is made.

One word speeds to the lips in any discussion of 1980s art, and that’s painting: from the expansionism of Neo-Expressionism to Neo-Geo’s seductive endgames. But in one clean revisionist sweep, this exhibition intentionally turned a blind eye to most 1980s painting – a decision that resul-ted in many of the glamorized, shoulder-padded art stars of the 1980s making their presence felt only through their absence. Thus the exhibition had a powerful shadow; a kind of virtual parallel show, which no one probably feels the need to re-hang just yet.

While New York was undoubtedly the puffed-up art world epicentre back then, this geographically organized exhibition also inverted the usual weighting of the Northern European/North American axis by paying more attention to the former. Such an approach was locally pertinent given that, for Portuguese artists who emerged struggling at the end of the country’s dictatorship in 1974, the 1980s represented the first possibility of participating in the then-burgeoning international contemporary art discourse. The show’s alternative ‘topology’ was also a global readjustment of centres and peripheries and included artists, if a little symbolically, from other regions.

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