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>> Re-reading the 80s
>> Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
>> Barbara Kruger
>> Interview Rainer Fetting

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Appropriation artists like Prince or Kruger investigated the contradictory messages hidden behind mass media imagery and questioned the gender roles and stereotypes of consumerist society. The booming Hip-Hop movement introduced protagonists who came from the graffiti scene, among them Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Futura 2000. Nan Goldin photographed the underground scene on the Lower East Side. To this day, the era of Studio 54, the Mudd Club, Danceteria, and performance venues like The Kitchen remains a model for a club culture in which Hollywood stars, politicians, and media people can mingle with artists, celebrities of the scene, and suburban kids eager to party.


Singers Boy George (left) and Marilyn with Andy Warhhol, 1985
Photo: Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, © Getty Images



Fans became stars; stars became fans. It seemed as though Warhol's legendary prognosis that in the future anyone could become famous for fifteen minutes had become reality: Jenny Holzer's Truisms ran along the electric news ticker display above Times Square; the Young Wild Ones, the artists of the Transavanguardia, and painters like Julian Schnabel were featured in lifestyle magazines and associated with the young European aristocracy that bought their art and went out to clubs with them. And with Jeff Koons' arrival on the scene, a new prototype of the media art star was born, a successor to Dalí and Warhol who was as slick as the shiny surfaces of his stainless-steel bunnies.



Futura 2000, Untitled, 1984,
Deutsche Bank Collection


In retrospect, the pictures from this time seem like the relics of a romantic and somewhat naïve age in which the world was both easier to understand and "weirder," in which boundaries could still be transgressed. In reality, however, the early eighties heralded the end of the subculture. As the squatters, musicians, and artists moved into problem areas and inner-city ghettos, the process of gentrification was set into motion. Real estate agents followed in the footsteps of the creative avant-garde. And while discos like the legendary Area were transformed into exhibition spaces and graffiti artists and punk musicians were shown in museums, artists and scene celebrities increasingly metamorphosed into managers and PR wiz kids. The commercialization of the underground was greatly accelerated by MTV, which supplied viewers in the suburbs with images and trends that had previously only been accessible to the initiated. Celebrities like Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis appeared as self-styled Society Punks—true-blue examples of the post-modernist individual who appropriated formerly subcultural codes as a fashion accessory destined to soon be replaced by the next hip look.




Nan Goldin, Kee in bed, E. Hampton, N.Y., 1988
Deutsche Bank Collection



Signs and roles increasingly lost their meaning; it became difficult to obtain an overview of any kind. Post-feminist theories questioned seemingly unassailable categories such as male and female and pegged them as social and cultural constructs generated through media portrayal. Not least, AIDS radically altered social notions of sexuality and gender. The vast numbers of deaths, thousands of which occurred in the art and culture scene alone, led to vociferous debates. A flood of reports on HIV-infected stars like Rock Hudson and Freddy Mercury as well as the coming-out of prominent figures who had previously concealed their sexual orientation behind a heterosexual façade forced a wider public to confront the subject of homosexuality head on.


Robert Mapplethorpe, Cross,
from "Für Joseph Beuys", 1986,
Deutsche Bank Collection

The AIDS debacle also led to an increased politicizing of art. A cultural war raged in the United States. Just as the Reagan Administration cut funds on health, tens of thousands of the afflicted could no longer afford the expensive HIV drugs. The conservative right preached ultra-religious family values, curtailed women's rights, and discriminated against homosexuals. In 1986, a group of activists founded ACT UP in order to put pressure on idle state and federal officials and the pharmaceutical industry. Other groups masterminding public actions were the Guerilla Girls and Gran Fury, who operated with strategies similar to Barbara Kruger's. In the financial district of downtown Manhattan, for instance, they handed out money that resembled dollar bills on one side, but on the other were printed with aggressive slogans like "White Heterosexual Men Can't Get AIDS ... DON'T BANK ON IT."



Keith Haring, Untitled, 1983, © The Estate of Keith Haring,
Deutsche Bank Collection


For David Wojnarowicz, the struggle with AIDS and the situation of sexual minorities also played a dominant role. His work combines poetry with polemics and a demand to be heard, to have a voice. In 2006, Wolfgang Tillmans opened his art space Between Bridges with a Wojnarowicz exhibition because the approach of the artist, who died of AIDS in 1992, is still crucial to him: "I've had a feeling for a long time that an apolitical attitude prevails in the art world, although political involvement is acutely necessary. We're in exactly the same situation now as we were then. But maybe the wealth of the art world led to this odd separation from the world of politics."



Richard Prince , Gwen Stefani,
from "all the best", 2000
Deutsche Bank Collection
©Richard Prince


But perhaps it was easier to take on a position during the eighties than in the globalized and confusing world of the present day. Now, the decade seems like a schizophrenic era that oscillated between activism and cool apathy, painting and appropriation, punk and disco, shoulder pads and thin ties, hedonism and death. At the time, the departure from the modernist project also meant the end of the grand narratives that explained the world to us. Anything goes, the leitmotif of contemporary culture, is based on phenomena that in the eighties became a part of mass culture — a coexistence of styles and the appropriation and recombination of a wide array of signs and sources. Since that time, the Internet has opened the door to an inexhaustible reservoir of images and sounds that can be sampled and remixed. And while Photoshop has long since replaced the Xerox machine, the principle has remained the same since the eighties: copy & paste.

Translation: Andrea Scrima

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