The end of the 1980s signaled a seismic shift in our geopolitical landscape. In 1989, we witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Cold War political order as well as the quashing of the democratic movement at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. These and other unprecedented global events ushered in a period of change and contradiction as ideologies radically realigned and systems of power, culture, and commerce became more integrated. Concurrently, the art world responded to this fluctuating terrain by reassessing its centers of knowledge and opening itself to a more international perspective on cultural production.
At the same time, the battles of the decade’s “culture wars” culminated in the highly politicized 1989 onslaught against the National Endowment for the Arts. The reverberations of this could be seen in the work of emerging artists, many of whom brought identity, politics, and activism to the forefront of their practice. This exhibition takes this charged moment as a point of departure, assembling a range of pieces from the Walker Art Center’s collection, including painting, sculpture, large-scale installations, photography, drawings, and editioned works.
While offering a glimpse into the changing nature of art produced in this context, the exhibition also chronicles the Walker’s recent collecting practice. In 1989, the establishment of an endowment specifically for contemporary art enabled curators to increase their focus on the work of young practitioners, international developments, and artists working between disciplines. Moving forward, the Walker continued its practice of charting artists’ careers and activities by acquiring works not only through traditional avenues but also from exhibitions, residencies, and commissions.
The Living Years is presented as an evolving installation, periodically introducing alternate works, recent acquisitions, and new means of interpretation. When viewed against the social and political backdrop of the past two decades, the exhibition aims to reexamine the art of our time. These “living years” are a work in progress, as the histories that we have inherited—and the ongoing narratives that artists construct through them—remain to be fully played out.
Curators: Siri Engberg and Clara Kim