FORT WORTH, Texas - From a purely artistic vantage point, the exhibition, "Urban Theater: New York Art in the 1980s," which recently opened at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, greets its patrons with two eye-grabbing works, each one of them signaling the show's bold intentions.
On one wall is the green, glowing, saturnine self-portrait of Andy Warhol. That Warhol's unsettling self-assessment is the exhibition's lead salvo is no accident.
"Warhol is the clear godfather of this 1980s generation of artists living and working in New York," observed Michael Auping, the Modern's - and this exhibition's - chief curator.
Immediately adjacent to the glowering image of Warhol is a mammoth photograph of one of Jenny Holzer's Truisms Series neon slogans - "Protect Me From What I Want" - shining from a Times Square building. Here, Holzer is sending out a warning flare about the rampant nature of consumerism that exploded in the 1980s.
Both the Warhol and Holzer works suggest the no-holds-barred, visual-image obsession of the tight-knit group of artists working in a single era - the 1980s - and from a single place: New York City. Because it concentrates solely on 1980s art, formed in the crucible of New York City, "Urban Theater: New York Art in the 1980s" casts a much-needed spotlight on what one critic called the "feverish onslaught" of '80s era art in New York.
Indeed, it was a gritty, raucous, glitzy and groundbreaking decade filled with a generation of baby boomer artists who derived their inspiration from everything from tenement walls and film, advertising and punk rock, and high and low-brow pop culture, all to produce some of the world's most enduring and valued art.
Urban Theater not only has the scale (it comprises more than 90 works) to explore this rich decade but also the singular trait of being presented in only one American museum - Fort Worth's Modern Art Museum.
"While in the past, there had been a couple of '80s-art-era shows," said Auping. "They were more about global art in the '80s, but not concentrated on New York artists. So there was no doubt in my mind that the way to do the '80s was to focus on New York."
"Urban Theater" aims for nothing less than a comprehensive take on the disparate communities of New York artists that coalesced around the '80s visual arts movement.
The exhibition flows seamlessly from, among many others, the creamy black and white photography of Robert Mapplethorpe to the original Bad Boys of painting - Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente, and Eric Fischl - to the self-referential photographic and charcoal pieces by Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo.
There is also the mural-wall-size graffiti art of Keith Haring, the elegantly scratchy paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, pieces by feminist artists Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, the satirically promotional works by Jeff Koons, the abstraction of Peter Halley, the unflinching downtown scene photography of Nan Goldin, and an extended film excerpt of Drum Dance, from performance artist, Laurie Anderson's, multimedia opera, United States.
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