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Traveling Through Time: Art of the 1980s You Can Buy Now!

  • Tom Wesselmann - Still Life
April 23, 2020
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Although the 1980s are always celebrated for the astonishing domains within popular culture, it was a decade of various social and political shifts that reflected on the future development of global capital.

Such was the case with visual arts that became dominated by new tendencies framed with universal term return to painting. The critical paradigm of the 1970s proposed by conceptual art was instead changed by something sellable – painting. Whether abstract or figurative, painting had a great comeback thanks to the new art market and wealthy patrons. Depending on the context, the 1980s brought also other prolific artists who expressed themselves in other media such as sculpture and photography.

To bring you closer the art created during this flamboyant decade, we made a selection of ten outstanding artworks from the 1980s made by some of the leading international artists.

Featured image: Tom Wesselmann – Still Life, 1988. All images courtesy of their respective galleries.

  • Thomas Ruff - Portrait

Thomas Ruff - Portrat (A. Giese)

The celebrated German photographer Thomas Ruff gained prominence for his conceptual serial photography. After acquiring his first photo camera in the mid 1970s, he started taking pictures of landscapes, gradually passing to the interiors of German living quarters and portraits of his friends who were the proponents of the Düsseldorf art and music scene. Ruff was also a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher along with other significant photographers such as Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Angelika Wengler, and Petra Wunderlich.

This particular portrait belongs to his passport-like series made between 1981 and 1985. The first portraits were small and black-and-white, but Ruff gradually switched to color, using backgrounds in different colors.

Buy the work here.

  • Fernando Botero - Mostly Mozart

Fernando Botero - Mostly Mozart

This artwork was produced by Fernando Botero, an established Colombian figurative artist and sculptor. He is best known for his own style called “Boterismo,” characterized by the depiction of large and voluminous figures. The most recognized and quoted living artist from Latin America, as Botero is often referred to as, received national critical attention after winning the first prize at the Salón de Artistas Colombianos in 1958.

This particular work depicting cartoonish figure reminiscent of Mozart nicely illustrates his quirky painterly style.

Buy the work here.

  • David Hockney - Pool Made with Paper and Blue Ink from Paper Pools

David Hockney - Pool Made with Paper and Blue Ink from Paper Pools

The most prominent British proponent of Pop art David Hockney is a skillful craftsman who continually uses all the media accessible to produce art. Since the mid-1960s, Hockney gained attention for his semi abstractions charged with homoeroticism, images of idealized leisure in Hollywood mansions and swimming pools, as well as photo collages and more recent iPad drawings.

This beautiful print made by David Hockney in 1980 encapsulates his fascination with water and swimming pools.

Buy the work here.

  • Antoni Tapies - Vernis I

Antoni Tàpies - Vernis I

This artwork was made by the renowned Spanish painter, sculptor, and art theorist Antoni Tàpies. He was a good friend with Joan Miró whose work inspired him much, and later he was engaged with the Art Informel movement and the Arte Povera movement. Although his style is largely abstract, Tàpies incorporated doors, windows, and the human body.

This particular painting called Vernis I depicts a monochrome organic silhouette and was made by the artist in 1989.

Buy the work here.

  • Andres Serrano - Heaven and Hell

Andres Serrano - Heaven and Hell

Coming up is an artwork made by the American photographer and artist Andres Serrano who gained a reputation for his controversial photos of corpses and the use of feces and bodily fluids. He is best known for the infamous photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass container filled with the artist’s own urine, as well as the man behind the artwork for the iconic heavy metal albums Load and Reload by Metallica.

This particular work is an apparent photomontage that nicely illustrates the artist’s continual criticism of the (Catholic) church.

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  • Keith Haring - Club DV8 - San Francisco Announcement

Keith Haring - Club DV8 - San Francisco Announcement

This artwork was made by none other than one of the most celebrated American artists of the 1980s, Keith Haring, known for his recognizable graffiti-like aesthetic inspired by the New York City street culture and infused by queerness and the socially charged agenda. From the city subways to fancy gallery openings, Haring’s work gradually matured and became even sharper especially in the wake of the AIDS pandemic.

This particular work was made by the artist in 1987, and as the title suggests, for the San Francisco-based Club DV8.

Buy the work here.

  • Andy Warhol - Arnold Schwarzenegger with Grace Jones

Andy Warhol - Arnold Schwarzenegger with Grace Jones at his wedding to Maria Shriver, Hyannis Port, MA, 1986

This amazing photograph featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the leading Hollywood megastar who played various action heroes, and singer, actress and the former model Grace Jones, was captured by Andy Warhol. Known for his obsession with the stardom, the Pop prince devotedly took pictures of his friends and acquaintances, many of them celebrities as the artist himself.

Interestingly so, by the time this photo was taken, Schwarzenegger had already shoot Terminator and Conan The Barbarian, while Jones already publish her most successful singles such as Nipple To The Bottle and Slave To The Rhythm. Therefore, this photo documents two stars at the height of their careers. Warhol made it one year before his death.

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  • Francesco Clemente - I

Francesco Clemente - I (self portrait)

This charming self-portrait was made by the celebrated Italian artist Francesco Clemente, one of the leading proponents of the Italian Transavanguardia movement of the 1980s. His practice is mostly influenced by the traditional art of India, and throughout the years Clemente worked with various media including drawing, fresco, graphics, mosaic, oils, and sculpture. By exploring esoteric themes such as spirituality and sexuality, and experimenting with portraiture, symbols, and the human figure, he has created memorable dreamlike imagery that is at the same time archaic and contemporary.

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  • Hans Hartung - Untitled

Hans Hartung - Untitled

This particular black and white painting was made by the prolific German-French painter Hans Hartung celebrated for his innovative gestural abstract style. His impeccable and rather expressive visual language made him one of the leading figures of 20th-century abstraction who had an immense impact on the upcoming generation of artists, especially on the proponents of American Lyrical Abstraction in the 1960s and 1970s.

Untitled is an exceptional drawing made by the artist in 1985.

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  • Tom Wesselmann - Still Life

Tom Wesselmann - Still Life

Last but not least 1980s artwork on our list was made by the outstanding Pop master, Tom Wesselmann, best known for his reduced classical female nudes or rather their essential components such as lips, pubes, and nips. His entire oeuvre resonated to the smooth forms and lines found in advertising, from billboards to neon signs. By gently moving from figuration to abstraction, while never fully crossing that line, Wesselmann kept enough space to act also as a social commentator.

Still Life is a glazed ceramic made by the artist in 1988 that nicely represents his mature style.

Buy the work here.