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Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s

Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden recently unveiled their new exhibition, featuring New York artists of the 1980s. The exhibition focused on the commercialization of art, the subversion of the commodity, and the artist-as-brand among many other themes.

I experienced the exhibition two nights before its official opening, which included a tour from curator Gianni Jetzer. Jetzer's tour helped contextualize a lot of the show, which can be hard to fully grasp without some background information and history of the contemporary art market. The exhibition focused on a number of themes surrounding advertisement, entertainment, and even the AIDS crisis.

While a lot of the art was aesthetically pleasing, and often colorful, it was a particularly subversive—and at times, cynical—show. I think this is what actually made the exhibition so important. It wasn't so much that these all of these artists found joy in consumerism or branding, rather they were inherently making commentary on the state of the art world by adapting to versions of consumerist/commodity-driven templates.

However, the exhibition wasn't trying to create an overall moral conclusion on the commodification of art. The art featured included commentary varying from critical to enthusiastic, which provided a nice balance.

I found the most powerful pieces in the show were the ones that referred to the AIDS crisis. While it veered off slightly from the intended themes of the show, these pieces definitely made a statement. Another special moment was the restaging of Krystof Wodiczko's iconic projection on the facade of the Hirshhorn, which was a limited-time projection special for the opening of the exhibition. 

 Barbara Kruger,  Untitled (You Rule by Pathetic Display)

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (You Rule by Pathetic Display)

 Left to right: Matt Mullican,  Signs Series . General Idea,  The Boutique of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion

Left to right: Matt Mullican, Signs Series. General Idea, The Boutique of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillion

 Jessica Diamond,  T.V. Telepathy (Black and White Version)

Jessica Diamond, T.V. Telepathy (Black and White Version)

 Peter Halley,  Copies Simulated

Peter Halley, Copies Simulated

 Krzysztof Wodiczko,  Unititled

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Unititled

 Jenny Holzer,  The Inflammatory Essays

Jenny Holzer, The Inflammatory Essays

 Barbara Bloom,  Planned Abandon

Barbara Bloom, Planned Abandon

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My Visit to the National Gallery of Art, East Building

My Visit to the National Gallery of Art, East Building