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90s Art Has a #Throwback Moment at MoCA

Like 90s-era TV, politicians, and fashion, the decade’s art is back, too.

by Antwaun Sargent
May 6 2016, 1:00pm

Installation view of Don't Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, March 12–July 11, 2016 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Brian Forrest

Everything about 2016 right now feels a lot like the 1990s. In politics, the Clintons have returned to center-stage, promising 90s-era posterity. On television, a slew of programs—American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, HBO’s ConfirmationFrasier is streaming on Netflix, etc.—have taken audiences back to experience some of the decade’s highs and lows. But what was art like in the 1990s? Look no further than The Geffen Contemporary at The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. Its exhibition, Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, is a diverse survey of art created during the last decade of the 20th century.

Installation view of Don't Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, March 12–July 11, 2016 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Brian Forrest

All of the art featured in The 1990s at MOCA comes from the museum’s collection. “Even though collections are built slowly, they are subject to the trends of the moment,” states the exhibition’s wall text written by the show’s curator Helen Molesworth. “Indeed, museum collections are one of the important ways western societies tell history. As I acquainted myself with MOCA’s collection, I became curious what stories it might tell about the relatively recent past.” Molesworth also points out, “it is interesting to note which of these trends and events are reflected in MOCA’s collection and which are not.”

Installation view of Don't Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, March 12–July 11, 2016 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Brian Forrest

The exhibition seems to tell many tales about the concerns that influenced art locally, countrywide, and internationally. The show features didactic, seminal, and obscure artworks by Catherine Opie, Jack Pierson, Cady Noland, Kori Newkirk, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It is divided into six themes—Installation; The Outmoded; Noir America; Place and Identity; Touch, Intimacy, and Queerness; and Space, Place, and Scale—that explore the ways in which the economy, sexuality, race, politics, place, and the beginning of internet transformed the 90s. The exhibition features more than a hundred objects and covers everything from the mainstream early 90s culture wars, to the regional specifics that influenced artists’ practices during that period.

Installation view of Don't Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, March 12–July 11, 2016 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Brian Forrest

Do-Ho Suh’s 1999 Seoul Home/L.A. Home/New York Home/ Baltimore Home/London Home/ Seattle Home, a silk and metal armature frame house suspended in the air, evokes the prevailing feeling of the decade: it speaks to the discomfort and displacement that accompanied the intrepid era. It also evokes the newness and renegotiation of power that came with the technological shifts and rise of women in politics. The work also embodies the idea that, no matter where the 90s left society, there was a yearning for safety, security, and ultimately, the remaking of time and place into home. The art exhibited, like Do-Ho Suh’s installation, is ultimately triumphant. It shows artists who are seeking to resolve visually the spirit and concern of that dynamic decade.

Installation view of Don't Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, March 12–July 11, 2016 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Brian Forrest

Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA continues through July 11. For more information, click here.

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Jack Pierson
Catherine Opie
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Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA
Helen Molesworth
The Geffen Contemporary
The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles