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When Art Met Commerce to Create a New Artistic Language in the 1980s

  • ACT UP (Gran Fury) - SILENCE = DEATH, 1987
  • Krzysztof Wodiczko -Homeless Vehicle in New York City, 1988-89
  • Jessica Diamond - T.V. Telepathy (Black and White Version), 1989
  • Haim Steinbach - on vend du vent, 1988
  • Ken Lum - Untitled Sculpture, 1982
February 9, 2018
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via his Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreja-velimirovi%C4%87-74068a68/

Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s will be the largest museum exhibition to investigate and get to the bottom of the collision art and commerce had in the 1980s. Hosted by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, this show will cover the iconic decade that saw the artworks emerge as products while those who made them became genuine brands.

Gianni Jetzer, the Hirshhorn’s curator-at-large, explains how Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s presents a never before seen history of the 1980s:

This phenomena of artist as a brand identity, and the art object as commodity, has never before been examined at this scale, and I am excited to explore the tremendous impact of these revolutionary individuals now at a time that, in many ways, mirrors the unique trends of that decade.

Alan Belcher - $51.49, 1983 / Ashley Bickerton - Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles) No. 2, 1988
Left: Alan Belcher – $51.49, 1983. Dye transfers on bottles of Solo fabric softener; each 8.75 x 3.75 x 1.875 in (22.22 x 9.52 x 4.76 cm) / 16 ounces. Courtesy Alan Belcher / Right: Ashley Bickerton – Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles) No. 2, 1988. Mixed media; 90 x 68 1/2 x 20 in (121.92 x 243.84 cm). Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from the Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., 1994.334. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s

Although a vast majority of exhibitions of art made in the 1980s zeroes-in on the return to figuration or the new rise of painting, Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s goes down a different rout by introducing an alternative view, one with much greater complexity.

Fueled by radical changes in politics and economy as well as the development of technology, the artists from the 1980s grew obsessed with consumerism.

Pioneering young artists, mostly from New York City, exploited the rising commercial culture and used it to launch a brand new artistic rebirth. They manufactured mundane objects like vacuum cleaners and clocks, turning them into vessels with complex, multi-layered meanings.

Advertising and television quickly emerged as rich new mediums for expression and artworks themselves were transformed into branded products while the artists standing behind them were viewed as celebrities much more alike today’s famous personas than what traditional artists were viewed throughout history.

Matt Mullican - Untitled (Death), 1980 / GENERAL IDEA - The Boutique of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, 1980
Left: Matt Mullican – Untitled (Death), 1980. Lead paint on paper mounted on canvas; 60 x 42 in (152.5 x 106.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist, Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich and Peter Freeman, Inc. / Right: GENERAL IDEA – The Boutique of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion, 1980. Galvanized metal and plexiglass, prints, posters, publications; overall (installed): 60 1/4 x 131 7/8 x 102 3/8 in. (153 x 335 x 260 cm). Collection Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Gift of Sandra Simpson, 1998. Courtesy Esther Schipper, Berlin

Big Names Across the Show’s Roster

Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s will present nearly 150 witty and satirical works, and it will be the first time the origins and the rise of counterculture 1980s artists will be put under a comprehensive microscope.

Organized chronologically, the show will feature rarely seen paintings, sculptures and installations from the biggest names in ’80s art such as Ashley Bickerton, General Idea, Peter Halley, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Joel Otterson, Richard Prince, Erika Rothenberg and Julia Wachtel, to name a few.

Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s will also discuss the unique collaborations taking place during this time that saw many artists come together and form their own commercial entities like pop-ups and storefronts.

Cindy Sherman - Untitled #121, 1983 / Sarah Charlesworth- Golden Boy, 1983-84
Left: Cindy Sherman – Untitled #121, 1983. C-print; 40 x 27 1/2 in (101.5 x 69.8 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Dr. William H. Goldiner, 1998. Photo by Lee Stalsworth / Right: Sarah Charlesworth – Golden Boy, 1983-84. Cibachrome with lacquered wood frame; 42 x 32 in (106.68 x 81.28 cm). Courtesy of the Estate of Sarah Charlesworth and Maccarone, NY/LA

Artists Who Shaped the 1980s Art Exhibition at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The artists of the upcoming show appropriated modern commercial strategies in order to create an entirely new artistic language of commercialism, a revolutionary shift that continues to define contemporary art today. They played a critical role in the emergence of new artistic voices and ultimately redefined how art could be sold. Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s will be open to the public between the 14th of February and the 13th of May 2018 at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C..

David Wojnarowicz - USDA Choice Beef, 1985 / John Dogg - John, Not Johnny, 1987
Left: David Wojnarowicz – USDA Choice Beef, 1985. Acrylic on found supermarket poster; 42 x 31 1/2 in (106.68 x 80.01 cm). Courtesy the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P•P•O•W, New York. ©The Estate of David Wojnarowicz / Right: John Dogg – John, Not Johnny, 1987. Painted stainless steel cover; 29 x 29 in (73.66 x 73.66 cm). Collection of Adam Lindemann. Courtesy Venus over Manhattan
Guerrilla Girls - These Galleries show no more than 10% women artists or none at all., 1984-85
Guerrilla Girls – These Galleries show no more than 10% women artists or none at all., 1984-85. Offset lithograph; each 11 x 17 in (27.94 x 43.18 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Cathy Carver
Donald Moffett - He Kills Me, 1987
Donald Moffett – He Kills Me, 1987. Offset lithograph; 23.5 x 37.5 in (59.7 x 69.9 cm. International Center of Photography,Purchase, with funds provided by the ICP Acquisitions Committee, 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © Donald Moffett
Ken Lum - Alex Gonzalez Loves his Mother and Father, 1989
Ken Lum – Alex Gonzalez Loves his Mother and Father, 1989. Chromogenic print on sintra, mounted on acrylic sheet with screen printed ink text; 46 x 80 x 2 1/6 in (116.5 x 203.3 x 5.5 cm). Courtesy the artist. Photo by Witte de with Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam
Julia Wachtel - what, what, what, 1988
Julia Wachtel – what, what, what, 1988. Oil, flashe, and lacquer ink on canvas; 52 x 111 in (132.08 x 281.94 cm). Courtesy the artist & Elizabeth Dee New York
Jeff Koons - New! New Too!, 1983
Jeff Koons – New! New Too!, 1983. Lithograph billboard mounted on cotton; 123 x 272 in (312.4 x 690.9 cm). © Jeff Koons
Barbara Kruger - Untitled (I shop therefore I am), 1987
Barbara Kruger – Untitled (I shop therefore I am), 1987. Photographic silkscreen on vinyl; 111 5/8 in x 113 1/4 in x 2 1/2 in (283.53 cm x 287.65 cm x 6.35 cm). Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland. © Barbara Kruger. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Photo: Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art.com

Featured images: ACT UP (Gran Fury) – SILENCE = DEATH, 1987. Neon sign, two colors; 48 x 79 in (121.92 x 200.66 cm). Courtesy New Museum, New York. William Olander Memorial Fund; Krzysztof Wodiczko – Homeless Vehicle in New York City, 1988-89. Color photographs; set of 6; each 11 x 17 in (27.94 x 43.18 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, Smithsonian Institution. © Krzysztof Wodiczko. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York; Jessica Diamond – T.V. Telepathy (Black and White Version), 1989. Acrylic paint on wall; dimensions variable upon installation. Number 1 of an edition of 3. Courtesy the artist. © Jessica Diamond; Haim Steinbach – on vend du vent, 1988. Text in matte black latex paint, or vinyl letters applied onto the wall; dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Ken Lum. Untitled Sculpture, 1982. Couches, side tables, table lamps. Installation view Artists’ space. Photo by Neue Galerie Graz, Graz, Austria. All images courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.