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Exhibitions and Events

Come as you are: Art of the 90s

Medicinal Garden, University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens; Photo by Austin Thomason.

DION, Mark_Department of Marine Animal Identification of the City of San Francisco (Chinatown Division), 1998

An overview of art made in the United States between 1989 and 2001 from the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11 this exhibition showcases 64 works by 46 artists, including installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, video, and digital art. The exhibition features artists who came of age during this decade and whose work reflected the increasingly diverse nature of the art world at the time, when many artists of color, women artists, and LGBT artists attained unprecedented prominence. The exhibition’s title refers to a 1992 song by Nirvana (the quintessential ’90s band, led by the quintessential ’90s icon, Kurt Cobain), and speaks to issues of identity complicated by the effects of digital technology and a new global culture.

ALI,-Laylah_Untitled,-2000The 1990s was a decade of tremendous social, political, and economic change. Its defining event was arguably the digital revolution, which altered everything from everyday communication to international commerce to global geopolitics. The nascent 24-hour news cycle magnified every chain of events that rocked the United States during these years, including the economic recession from 1987 to the mid-’90s; the collapse of the Soviet Union beginning in 1989; the First Gulf War (1990); the Clarence Thomas Anita Hill controversy (1991); the Rodney King beating and the subsequent Los Angeles riots in 1991-92; the election of Bill Clinton in 1992; the resurgence of the political right and the NAFTA treaty in 1994; the dot-com bubble of the mid-to-late 1990s; the presidential impeachment and acquittal in 1998-99; and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Artists grappled with these events, addressing them directly and also situating them within the context of changes particular to the art world, including the “culture wars” surrounding artistic freedom, the impact of new technologies on art-making, and the expansion of the global art market. Come as You Are argues that amidst, and indeed because of, these dramatic societal shifts, the 1990s constituted a turning point for the institution of art itself.

BAG, Alex_Untitled Fall '95 - 25The exhibition is organized around three principal themes that may be traced chronologically: identities and difference, the digital revolution, and globalization. The early 1990s were dominated by debates about multiculturalism and “identity politics”an imperfect shorthand for issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Although these debates have roots in the mid-20th-century civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements, during the 90s they took on new dimensions. The mid-1990s saw the precipitous development of digital technologies. Heralded by the launch of the first commercial Internet browser, in 1993, the digital revolution transformed all aspects of contemporary life, including the production of, discourse around, and market for art. It also led to the development of Internet art, a genre whose life span was essentially limited to the 90s. The late 1990s were marked by the rise of globalization in the political, social, and economic realms: a shrinking of the world resulting from the growth of global capitalism following the demise of Communism, combined with the birth of the Internet and its transformation of how ideas, people, money, and objects circulate. In the art world, globalization led to a rapid acceleration of the market and a ramping up of the “star system” for artists. Yet it also prompted a “postcolonial turn, in which artists from nations previously governed by the major European colonial powers” and generally marginalized within the art world gained new visibility on an international stage. Come as You Are considers how the multifaceted art of the 1990s reflected this tumultuous era.

Alexandra Schwartz

Curator of Contemporary Art
Montclair Art Museum

Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s is organized by the Montclair Art Museum and curated by Alexandra Schwartz, curator of contemporary art, with Kimberly Siino, curatorial assistant. This exhibition is made possible with generous support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Provost and the University of Michigan Health System. Additional support is provided by Samantha and Ross Partrich, Andrea and Joel Brown, the University of Michigan CEW Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund, Department of the History of Art, and Residential College.

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