It hits you like a rail of coke. The brightly neon-hued images and three-dimensional ephemera that cover every inch of the small dark room –– records, a piano, boom boxes, TVs, a Star of David, children’s toys, tinsel –– pulsate and jive like the super-loud pop music, from The O’Jays’ “Love Train” to some tropicália disco, blaring through hidden speakers. As the delirium eventually ebbs, or as the overall loudness begins to disorient you, another though less invigorating sensation arrives: How in the hell did they do this?
Multi-disciplinary artist Kenny Scharf’s totalizing environment, part of his Cosmic Cavern series dating back decades, is a, um, high point in Urban Theater: New York Art in the 1980s, a broad survey that will remain at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth until Jan. 4. Covering 25,000 square feet of gallery space (and a couple of feet in the gift shop, of course), the exhibit, organized by Modern curator Michael Auping and featuring just about every heavy hitter –– including Laurie Anderson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Nan Goldin, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Cindy Sherman, and, of course, Andy Warhol, whose monumental self-portrait in green with part of his white hair elevated greets museumgoers –– raises another question: Why the hell are they doing this now?
In the accompanying catalog, Auping simply writes, “As the artists who emerged in that decade now set records at auction, the era is ripe to be re-examined,” ignoring –– willfully or not –– the context of the show. The Decade of Decadence appears to be coming back in more ways than one. Instead of the Cold War, the West’s meta-narrative is the threat of terrorism, which could also explain our devotion to escapist fantasies in entertainment, the return of giddy, Memphis Group-inspired design (lots of geometric shapes and bold, often-incongruent colors), and skinny jeans.