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Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s

Jan 27–May 14, 2017

Julia Wachtel (b. 1956), Membership, 1984. Oil on canvas, 66 × 81 in. (167.6 × 205.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee  2016.114 © Julia Wachtel; courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Dee New York. Digital Image © Whitney Museum, N.Y.

Julia Wachtel (b. 1956), Membership, 1984. Oil on canvas, 66 × 81 in. (167.6 × 205.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee  2016.114 © Julia Wachtel; courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Dee New York. Digital Image © Whitney Museum, N.Y.

Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s presents a focused look at painting from this decade with works drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. 

In the 1980s, painting recaptured the imagination of the contemporary art world against a backdrop of expansive change. An unprecedented number of galleries appeared on the scene, particularly in downtown New York. Groundbreaking exhibitions—that blurred distinctions between high and low art—were presented at alternative and artist-run spaces. New mediums, including video and installation art, were on the rise. Yet despite the growing popularity of photography and video, many artists actively embraced painting, freely exploring its bold physicality and unique capacity for expression and innovation.

The exhibition includes work by artists often identified with this explosive period—Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sherrie Levine, David Salle, and Julian Schnabel—as well as by several lesser-known painters. These artists explored the traditions of figuration and history painting, and offered new interpretations of abstraction. Many addressed fundamental questions about artmaking in their work, while others took on political issues including AIDS, feminism, gentrification, and war. In the face of a media-saturated environment, artists in the 1980s recommitted to painting. Far from dead, painting came to represent an important intersection between new ways of seeing and a seemingly traditional way of making art. 

Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s is organized by Jane Panetta, associate curator, with Melinda Lang, curatorial assistant.

Works from the Exhibition

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988), “LNAPRK”, 1982. Acrylic, oil, oil stick, and marker on found paper on canvas and wood, with rope, 72 1/4 × 66 5/16 in. (183.5 × 168.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of June and Paul Schorr in honor of the 60th Anniversary of the Whitney Museum of American Art 91.83  © 2016 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York
Ross Bleckner (b. 1949), Count No Count, 1989. Oil and wax on canvas, 108 × 72 1/8 in. (274.3 × 183.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 89.28  © Ross Bleckner; courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Peter Cain (1959–1997), Z, 1989. Oil on canvas. 58 1/4 × 70 1/8 in. (148 × 178.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 92.29  © Peter Cain; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, N.Y.
Robert Colescott (1925–2009), The Three Graces: Art, Sex and Death, 1981. Acrylic on canvas, 84 × 72 in. (213.4 × 182.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Raymond J. Learsy 91.59.1 With permission of the Estate of Robert Colescott
Moira Dryer (1957–1992, Portrait of a Fingerprint, 1988. Casein on plywood, 48 1/8 × 61 1/4 × 4 in. (122.2 × 155.6 × 10.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz 94.58  © Estate of Moira Dryer
Eric Fischl (b. 1948), A Visit To / A Visit From / The Island, 1983. Oil on canvas, 84 × 168 in. (213.4 × 426.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc., Seymour M. Klein, President 83.17 a-b
David Salle (b. 1952). Sextant in Dogtown, (1987). Oil and acrylic on canvas, 96 3/16 × 126 1/4 in. (244.3 × 320.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee  88.8a-e.  © David Salle, licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.
Kenny Scharf (b. 1958). When the Worlds Collide, 1984. Oil and acrylic spray paint on canvas, 122 5/16 × 209 5/16 in. (310.7 × 531.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Edward R. Downe, Jr. and Eric Fischl 84.44  © 2016 Kenny Scharf / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Julian Schnabel (b. 1951), Hope, 1982. Oil and velvet on velvet. 110 × 158 in. (279.4 × 401.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from an anonymous donor 82.13  © 2016 Julian Schnabel / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Julia Wachtel (b. 1956), Membership, 1984. Oil on canvas, 66 × 81 in. (167.6 × 205.7 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 2016.114  © Julia Wachtel
Terry Winters (b. 1949), Good Government, 1984. Oil on linen, 101 1/4 × 136 1/4 in. (257.2 × 346.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from The Mnuchin Foundation and the Painting and Sculpture Committee 85.15  © Terry Winters

In The News

"The Whitney Revisits the '80s, a Decade of Macho and Money."
The New York Times

“The powerful excitement of the decade has been languishing in a blind spot of art history. An exhibit at the Whitney comes to the rescue.”
The New Yorker

"An absorbing group show that brings together about 40 paintings by as many artists."
WNYC

“A show of 1980s American painting at the Whitney Museum includes serious and playful meditations on sexuality, AIDS, wealth, and politics.”
The Daily Beast

"Painting From the 1980s, When Brash Met Flash"
The New York Times