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MCA brings viewers back to 1980s art, politics

By Shannon Shreibak
On March 12, 2012

It all began with self-proclaimed "fashionistas" bringing AC/DC crop tops and neon leggings back into fashion. Then came the audiophiles who habitually dropped entire paychecks on AC/DC vinyl records. The 1980s seems to be a well-recognized, even revered, decade in our society. While it was rife with festivals, excess and turbulence, many fail to acknowledge the artistic strides that were made during this prolific decade. The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art showcased one of America's most artistically innovative decades, the 1980s, and its most provocative issues—from disenfranchisement to Reaganomics.

"This Will Have Been: Art, Love and Politics in the 1980s" covers the years 1979-92.

The 1980s marked the height of President Reagan's influence, a time when the marginalized minorities had reached their breaking points. This adversity inspired many artists to express themselves in rather unconventional ways, either by changing their methods of display (graffiti art) or their mediums (video technology), which are all showcased in the exhibit. "This Will Have Been" occupies the expansive fourth floor of the museum and is neatly divided into quadrants, each representing a different social ill. Among the issues addressed are the AIDS crisis, the increasing popularity of punk and hip-hop music and society's increasing reliance on technology.

The exhibit relates the decade to both the museum and the artists, focusing on the museum's development and role in society at a time when a new, innovative generation of artists was on the rise. The generation of artists showcased in the exhibit was the first to experience many controversial issues in society, from growing up with television to facing the threat of AIDS. This adversity inspired artists to express themselves in new, unexpected ways, whether it was through the subject matter or medium. Art became a way of addressing problems in society that affected an overlooked part of the population. From photographs to mixed media sculptures, the constant struggle of living in these trying times is made evident.

Some highlights of the exhibit include a compilation of interviews with AIDS victims and Robert Mapplethorpe photography. All art displayed throughout the exhibit was inspired and relevant to the issues of the time; all pieces captured a great deal of interest and threw the viewer back to the turbulent times when the art was created.

"This Will Have Been" serves to provide deeper insight into an often-misunderstood time in American society. It looks past the clichéd images of neon spandex and terrible music and addresses the lofty topics that were at the forefront of everyone's minds. As the MCA describes the 1980s, it was a time when art was created "all in the name of an expanded idea of freedom."

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