The 1980s If, in the field of the visual arts, the late 1990s have been marked by critical and methodological faction wars, the decade of the 1980s seems, by comparison, like some bygone age, arousing a certain amount of embarrassment or suspicion. At its most radical, this suspicion is expressed in the notion that the 1980s was 'the decade that never really happened' (Dan Cameron). And yet the ‘80s saw an almost euphoric coexistence of ‘trends’. The boom in the art market in the first part of that decade, the reinvention of the artist-as-hero (or at least of artist as star or celebrity) , the return to painting, the different forms of quotation and appropriation, the 'expanded field' of sculpture, the self-critical uses of photography and video, the multiple expressions and explorations of notions of representation — these are now often seen as symptoms of a confused eclecticism. In curating this exhibition for Culturgest, Maria de Coral's aim was 'not to view the art of the 80s from the perspective of the 90s' (it is, she must be well aware, too early for this kind of revision), but rather, to show how that decade was experienced by those on the so-called periphery, just at a time when Spain and Portugal were ostensibly joining a ‘fully flourishing Europe’, the catalogue tells us. The premise itself is beguiling, but of course it establishes a false parity (economic, cultural) between Portugal and Spain. The inclusion of artists from Spain and Portugal in the exhibition, however, seems to be the only concession Maria de Coral makes to this initial premise. For the rest, this is a solid presentation of the 1980s as a decade of multiplicity: these artists today seem almost to be 'contemporary classics'. The selection highlights the extent to which, by the late 1980s, globalisation and the mass media have contributed towards the dissolution of local or national characteristics in the arts, although in the first part of the decade, it still made sense to talk of the Italian trans-vanguard, of German Neo-Expressionism, or of the 'Americanness' of artists like David Salle, Eric Fischl and Cindy Sherman. That this should be the first excellent opportunity that we, here in Portugal, have of seeing works by these artists is an index of the extent to which Portugal in the 1980s was still struggling with a sense of being on the outer edges, peripheral to the events that were in the limelight, and not really part of that flourishing Europe, although trying hard to belong. The range of works on show is broad and the exhibition is an excellent overview of the decade for those who had become familiar with so-called international practice through magazines, catalogues, and travel ather than on home


turf. Particularly strong are the sections dealing with the return to painting (Clemente, Cucchi, Kiefer, Schnabel, Salle) and the uses of photography as a disruptive or critical tool (Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jeff Wall, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Yasumasa Morimura). The slippery terms of sculptural practice (Reinhard Mucha, Jan Vercruysse) arepitted against the more aestheticising, if broad, concerns of artists like Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor, Richard Deacon, José Pedro Croft, Susana Solano and Juan Muñoz. The problematisation of the 'object' (a rethinking of the readymade) that began to feature towards the end of the decade and that paved the way for the concerns of the 1990s, is represented only by the work of Haim Steinbach and Jeff Koons, with Robert Gober showing how the readymade can be harnessed as personal testimony. The video section alas includes only three (singular) examples: Gary Hill, Bill Viola and Fischli&Weiss. This is clearly a personal, but possible, view of the 1980s. If there is an endless list of missing names one remembers – an alternative narrative that might be construed – this does not detract from the merits of this exhibition as a portrait of that decade. Ruth Rosengarten The 1980s, Culturgest, Lisbon Published in Visão, November (?) 1998.