Did video kill the art star?

Authored by: WAG Staff on August 30, 2018

The 80s Image curator, Andrew Kear, as Optimus Prime ca. 1985

The 80s were fueled by big hair, shoulder pads, and music videos, and featured gems like the portable television. But how did technology impact the world of art? Andrew Kear, WAG Chief Curator and exhibition curator, tells us how The 80s Image came to be and what you will see when you visit.

WAG: How did The 80s Image exhibition come to be? A little 1980s Much Music binge watching maybe?

Andrew Kear: I'm struck by how persistent the nostalgia for 80s culture is, with synth pop back in style, high-waisted jeans, and shows like Stranger Things. I am also aware of the fact that a number of big museums-the Whitney (New York), The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art-have been organizing shows looking at the 1980s from a variety of different angles. The WAG has amazing holdings from that decade. Much of it came in during the 1980s and 1990s, the lasting legacy of former WAG curators and directors like Shirley Madill, Carol Phillips, and Bruce Ferguson. Moreover, much of it hasn't been on view since the 1980s and 1990s. So I wanted to strike while the iron was hot.

WAG: What will visitors see when they come view The 80s Image?

AK: In a nutshell: big images. Paintings and photography, often brightly coloured, often combined with advertisement-like text. The 1980s is of course the decade when video in all its forms-television shows, commercials, satellite and computer imagery, to say nothing of music videos and video art-really began to seriously pervade the culture. So the exhibition is, at least in part, motivated by the question: why did painting and still photography persist in a decade defined by video?

WAG: Do you have a favourite or interesting story about an artist or artwork featured in the exhibition?

AK: Yes, I have two actually. One is demoralizing while the other made me giddy. First, over the course of researching the show I discovered that one of the most important pieces I was planning to install-AIDS by General Idea-had been incorrectly installed the only other time the WAG exhibited it, back in 1992. We've only shown the piece once and not to its full integrity. So, this will be the first time people will actually get to see it installed properly, which is pretty exciting.

The second story goes like this… through a series of fortuitous connections and unplanned events, I ended up negotiating a loan for a 1987 Peter Doig painting, and actually having extended correspondence with him. Peter is a Scottish artist, and one of the world's best known and highly sought contemporary painters. His work also had a huge influence on me when I was going to art school-as it did for many of my colleagues. The whole experience has been a bit surreal.

WAG: What do you hope people take away from The 80s Image?

AK: Actually, I think they'll discover, perhaps to their surprise, that the 80s is a decade that has a lot of similarities with our current cultural climate. There is a waxing-and-waning between party and protest, apocalyptic dread and hedonistic celebration that the present age shares with the 80s. So, while people may come because they expect lots of big hair and neon, they'll also be reminded of tougher social and political issues that, I hope, will ensure that, at least for Generation X and Ys like me, the show isn't simply a nostalgic retreat.

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