The 1980s was a decade of meteoric growth, both for the global economic system and for the art world that swung in its orbit. Cocaine, MTV, the personal computer, the collapse of state-sponsored socialism: these were heady times for the neoliberal regimes installed in Deng Xiaoping’s China, Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain, and Ronald Reagan’s United States.
In this atmosphere of accelerating modernization, everything began to serve the interest of profit. Whether the modernism peddled by art critic Clement Greenberg was dead or just demoded remained a topic of debate, but imagery of any kind could now be repurposed for the auction block. In his landmark 1984 text Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, American critic Frederic Jameson neatly summarized the spirit of the age. So long, grand historical narratives, his text announced; hello, consumerist desire.
As one of the most desirable and symbolic commodities, art slid easily into bed with business. Galleries multiplied in the established centers of Basel, New York, Paris, Cologne, and Düsseldorf, while new art fairs and biennials blossomed in Chicago, Stockholm, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, and Milan.
Artistic strategies to navigating this new marketplace, however, were more ambivalent. They can be slotted into two primary positions:
, which grew from Minimalism and Conceptualism to embrace techniques of photography and appropriation; and
, which exhumed the traditional notions of painting that had been stamped out by Modernism—only to represent them as a corpse.