Past Exhibitions

To Make Visible: Art and Activism, 1980-2000

October 17, 2020 - January 3, 2021

​​Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in the 1980 presidential election signaled a fundamental shift in American culture. Reagan seized upon the frustrations and anxieties of White, Christian, and increasingly suburbanized Americans who felt alienated by postwar liberalism and the perceived turbulence and instability of the previous decade. Many of the major strides toward social justice—particularly within the realms of racial equity, feminism, and LGBT rights—accomplished in the 1960s and ’70s by activist movements were eroded during the Reagan Revolution, an era characterized by political and social conservatism and laissez-faire economic policies that reverberated through the rest of the millennium—and to this day.

​Artists alienated by the dominant culture of late 20th-century America found themselves unwilling and unable to separate their art from their activism. Some, like Lorna Simpson, Mark Morrisroe, Glenn Ligon, and David Wojnarowicz, leveraged their racial, gender, and sexual identities to create autobiographical— often confrontational—works that made visible both personal and collective experiences of marginalization. Others, like Jenny Holzer, Gran Fury, Robbie Conal, and the Guerrilla Girls, exploited popular media like bus advertisements and broadsheets in order to broadly disseminate their biting social critiques. In ways both ove​rt and covert, artists weaponized their artistic practices in order to hold a mirror up to the injustices of their time, to combat apathy and provoke change.

How will art make visible to future generations the social and political struggles of our time?

Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Mollie Bennett Lupe and Garland M. Lasater Exhibitions Fund.