Minneapolis, August 30, 2012— 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’s political order, as well as the quashing of the democratic movement at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. These and other global events ushered in a period of change and contradiction as social and political ideologies radically realigned and as our systems of power, culture, and economy became more integrated. This was also the moment in which global networks, both real and imagined, created transnational flows of ideas and goods through new infrastructures and technologies. 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 ideological battles of the decade’s “culture wars” culminated in the highly politicized 1989 onslaught against the National Endowment for the Arts; the reverberations could be seen in the work of emerging artists, many of whom began to allow identity, politics, and activism to come to the forefront of their practice. The Living Years: Art after 1989 takes this charged moment as a point of departure, assembling some 70 works from the Walker collection, including painting, sculpture, large-scale installations, photography, drawings, and editioned works. The exhibition is on view at the Walker from September 6, 2012 through January 4, 2015.
While offering a glimpse into the changing nature of art produced during this period, the exhibition also follows the Walker’s collecting history as a parallel narrative. In 1989, the reservoir was redefined with the establishment of an endowment dedicated to the acquisition of contemporary art. This allowed curators to increase their focus on innovative, emerging practices, international developments, and artists working between disciplines. Many artists emerging in the 1990s—such as Glenn Ligon, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Kara Walker—would go onto become those acquired by the Walker in depth; others had their first museum exhibitions here (Jac Leirner, Craigie Horsfield, Haegue Yang); still others participated in residencies and significant commissions (Christian Marclay, Lorna Simpson, Catherine Opie, Sam Durant). Their activities, and the acquisitions borne from them, signaled a way of building a collection that aimed to keep pace with the art of our time.
On view through 2014, The Living Years is presented as an evolving installation, introducing visitors periodically to alternate works, recent acquisitions, and new means of interpretation. When viewed against the social and political backdrop of the past two decades, as well as the Walker’s own history of collecting and presenting art, the exhibition aims to allow for change and reexamination of our current moment. 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.
The Living Years: Art after 1989 is curated by Clara Kim, Senior Curator, Visual Arts and Siri Engberg, Curator, Visual Arts, Walker Art Center.