90s Darlings Matthew Barney and Kara Walker Give Glimpse Into Burgeoning Scene

See how contemporary art of the 1990s shaped today's art world.

It’s not hard to see why “Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s,” which opened at the Montclair Museum of Art on February 8, has been generating serious buzz ahead of its opening. (See: Kurt Cobain Spurs New Grunge-Era Show.)

Who doesn’t want to see the legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain painted as a princess by Elizabeth Peyton in her inimitable style, or remember where (and how)  they were when the popularity of the band—and the grunge-era anthem that inspired the title of the show—was at a peak in the early 90s?

And for those of us in a certain age group—ahem—the show provides a fascinating reminder of what the art world looked like back then—particularly through the lens of the current contemporary art market. It’s fascinating to see what artists like Doug Aitken, Janine Antoni, Matthew Barney, Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon, and Felix Gonzales-Torres were doing twenty years ago.

We sat down with Montclair Art Museum’s founding contemporary curator Alexandra Schwartz to discuss the inspiration for the show and how it took shape. She explained that she sees the 1990s “as a really transitional period in many ways,” citing “the culture wars, intense discussions about race and gender and what has come to be known as identity politics.”

“I think it will be inspiring for younger artists to see how a previous generation was addressing those kinds of issues in their work,” said Schwartz.

Contributing a cut-out on canvas is Kara Walker, whose recent giant installation at the Domino Sugar Factor in Brooklyn (see: Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx Inspires Offensive Instagrams) was a standout art world event. Walker is “dealing with many of the themes that she returned to again and again, of slavery, African-American history, the power dynamics between African Americans and white slave holders,” said Schwartz.

Artist duo Aziz +Cucher used an early version of Photoshop to “basically erase all his male features,” according to Schwartz. “So he becomes this emasculated sort of gender-neutral figure. So they’re thinking about masculinity, they’re thinking about digital technology. And I’m very hopeful that it will start a dialogue about art that does have this very socially engaged perspective.”

See our interview with MAM curator Alexandra Schwartz above.



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