The art in this exhibition reflects the 1980s which saw the drugs epidemic, the AIDS crisis, the cold war, widespread capitalism, space races, and high unemployment. It also saw the rise in technology and new trends in fashion and music. An influential moment in history, this post-war period saw artists from Europe and Asia migrate to the United States as they searched for cultural emancipation while seeking to challenge the world through their art, in an optimistic way. 40 years later, the work of these American icons is more relevant than ever as we see their activist work in light of the politics that has taken over modern America.
Renowned artist and activist Keith Haring is at the forefront of this iconic exhibition who, alongside his close friends and fellow artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, collaborated to shock and amaze people all over the world with their accessible yet hard-hitting subjects and animated colourful artworks that explored the political chaos of this era.
On a mission to change the world, Haring used his platform to enable research and to raise awareness about AIDS. Using ideals from the 60s popular culture to inject positive symbols and political messages into creating evocative art for the masses, Keith Haring created more than 50 large-scale works and his imagery has become a widely regarded visual Zeitgeist of New York City in the late 20th century. American Icons displays a large number of his best original works that epitomise his well-known absurdist style. Injected in Haring’s works are the cartoon-like motifs from his upbringing that gave a real sense of energy to his iconic works.
As one of the first American artists to reach international stature and wealth in the art world, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s signature scribbles drew influence from his Caribbean heritage and foresaw the increasingly popular street art movement that now dominates major cities. Though Haring and Basquiat tragically died from the AIDS and heroin epidemics of the 80s, their legacy and optimism lives on.
American Icons can also be seen to champion the female representations as Tom Wesselmann explores the female form with two vibrant oil paintings produced twenty-five years apart. These are juxtaposed by contemporary works by Alex Katz in his portrait of a young woman and Mel Ramos’ striking sculpture depicting a female nude breaking out of a packet of M&Ms – the iconic Pop Art movement which lives on.
The original artworks on display at Opera Gallery demonstrate the diverse generations of notorious artists and their influences, and this is a significant showcase of world-renowned artists of the late 20th century. Other major exhibiting artists also include co-founder of the Pop Art movement Tom Wesselmann and post-painterly abstract painter Frank Stella.