It’s the ’80s as you’ve never seen it before: the iconic decade when artwork became a commodity and the artist, a brand. Razor-sharp, witty, satirical, and deeply subversive, this exhibition of nearly 150 works examined the origins and rise of a new generation of artists in 1980s New York who blurred the lines among art, entertainment, and commerce, a shift that continues to define contemporary art today.
This expansive exhibition presented a fresh and focused history of the decade, bringing together rarely displayed works from U.S. and European collections for the first time since the ’80s. The artists included some of today’s most influential figures: Ashley Bickerton, Jessica Diamond, Peter Halley, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Joel Otterson, Richard Prince, Erika Rothenberg, Sarah Charlesworth, Haim Steinbach, Meyer Vaisman, and Julia Wachtel, as well as artist collectives and projects such as ACT UP Gran Fury, The Offices, General Idea, Fashion Moda, and Guerrilla Girls. Three major installations were re-created for the first time in thirty years, including seminal works by Gretchen Bender, Barbara Bloom, and Krzysztof Wodiczko.
Thirty years earlier, seismic shifts in politics, economics, and technology brought about a golden era of contemporary art in the United States, particularly in New York City, with its heady Wall Street wealth and gritty streets. Brand New offered a fascinating alternative history of art in that era by tracing how a pioneering group of young downtown artists appropriated the tools and psychology of growing consumer culture—advertising, logos, products, even cable TV—to change the landscape of the art world. Manufactured objects, such as vacuum cleaners and clocks, became vessels with complex meanings. Advertising and television emerged as rich new mediums for expression, and artworks themselves became branded products. Like today’s celebrity influencers, artists crafted personas both to market themselves and as a form of creative expression.
Year by year, Brand New traced major artistic developments alongside the corresponding events that shaped the ’80s, such as the introduction of MTV, Reaganomics, financial crises, gentrification, and height of the AIDS crisis. It also documented new collaborations taking place during this period, when artists came together to form their own complex commercial entities. These artist-run consultancies, aesthetic “service providers,” and pop-up storefronts redefined how art could be made and sold.
Curated by Gianni Jetzer, curator-at-large, with curatorial assistance from Sandy Guttman.
Artists featured in Brand New included ACT UP Gran Fury, Charlie Ahearn, John Ahearn, John Armleder, Alan Belcher, Gretchen Bender, Ashley Bickerton, Mike Bidlo, Dara Birnbaum, Barbara Bloom, Jennifer Bolande, Sarah Charlesworth, Clegg & Guttmann (Michael Clegg and Yair Martin Guttmann), Jessica Diamond, Jane Dickson, John Dogg (Richard Prince and Colin DeLand), Stefan Eins, R. M. Fischer, General Idea (AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal), Robert Gober, Robert Goldman, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Guerrilla Girls, Peter Halley, Jenny Holzer, Tishan Hsu, Christof Kohlhofer, Jeff Koons, Larry Johnson, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Annette Lemieux, Sherrie Levine, Ken Lum, Frank Majore, MICA-TV (Michael Owen and Carole Ann Klonarides), Allan McCollum, Dick Miller, Donald Moffett, Matt Mullican, Peter Nagy, The Offices of Fend, Fitzgibbon, Holzer, Nadin, Prince & Winters (Peter Fend, Coleen Fitzgibbon, Jenny Holzer, Peter Nadin, Richard Prince and Robin Winters), Tom Otterness, Joel Otterson, Adrian Piper, Richard Prince, David Robbins, Walter Robinson, Ronell Productions (R. M. Fischer and Elliot Wertheim), Martha Rosler, Erika Rothenberg, Christy Rupp, Cindy Sherman, Terri Slotkin, Michael Smith, Mark Stahl, Haim Steinbach, Philip Taaffe, Meyer Vaisman, Joan Wallace, Julia Wachtel, Andy Warhol, Tom Warren, James Welling, David Wojnarowicz, B. Wurtz, and Krzysztof Wodiczko.
This exhibition was made possible with support from Max and Monique Burger, Burger Collection Hong Kong; Harold J. and Ruth Newman; Galerie Lelong & Co.; the Hirshhorn International Council, and the Hirshhorn Collectors’ Council.