press release

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will open “Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s” Feb. 14–May 13, 2018, the first exhibition in 30 years to explore the collision of art and commerce in the late 20th century, a pivotal moment when artwork became a commodity and the artist, a brand. Razor-sharp, witty, satirical and deeply subversive, the nearly 150 works in “Brand New” examines for the first time the origins and rise of counterculture artists in New York City who appropriated modern commercial strategies to create an entirely new artistic language—a revolutionary shift that continues to define contemporary art today.

Organized by Gianni Jetzer, the Hirshhorn’s curator-at-large, “Brand New” presents a never before seen history of the decade, with rarely displayed works by today’s most influential artists, together for the first time since the ’80s, including Ashley Bickerton, Jessica Diamond, General Idea, Peter Halley, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Joel Otterson, Richard Prince, Erika Rothenberg, Sarah Charlesworth, Haim Steinbach, Meyer Vaisman and Julia Wachtel among others. Select major installations will be recreated for the first time in 30 years, including seminal works by Gretchen Bender, Barbara Bloom and Krzystof Wodiczko.

“The Hirshhorn is proud to present this groundbreaking exhibition, which explores a seismic shift in contemporary expression that set the stage for so many of today’s most celebrated artists,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “By presenting the works of artists such as Koons and Prince alongside several of their less-exhibited contemporaries, ‘Brand New’ provides insight into this pivotal decade and the corresponding rise of some of the biggest names today.”

While most narratives of art in the ’80s focus on the return to figuration or the rise of painting, “Brand New” introduces an alternative view with much greater complexity. Fueled by radical changes in politics, the economy and technology, the ’80s became the background for a rapid transformation in the contemporary art object. Faced with a growing obsession with consumerism, a pioneering group of young artists in New York exploited commercial culture to launch an artistic rebirth. Manufactured objects, such as vacuum cleaners and clocks, became vessels with complex meanings. Advertising and television emerged as rich new mediums for expression, and artworks themselves became branded products, promoting the carefully crafted artistic personas—much like today’s celebrity brands—as a form of creation.

“In a reaction to the success of Neo-Expressionism and its nostalgia of painting a new group of artists reclaimed the language of commerce, and what began as satire quickly grew to become a defining moment in contemporary art,” Jetzer said. “This phenomena of artist as a brand identity, and the art object as commodity, has never before been examined at this scale, and I am excited to explore the tremendous impact of these revolutionary individuals now at a time that, in many ways, mirrors the unique trends of that decade.”

“Brand New” also looks to document the unique collaborations taking place during this time period, when influential gatherings of downtown artists came together to form their own commercial entities. These artist-run galleries, pop-ups and storefronts played a critical role in the emergence of new artistic voices, and redefined how art could be sold. For the first time, this exhibition will explore this fascinating aspect of New York’s downtown art scene in depth.

Organized by year, “Brand New” parallels major artistic developments with the corresponding events that shaped the ’80s, such as the introduction of MTV and the height of the AIDS crisis. Highlights include Koons’ “New! New Too!,” a brilliant full-scale billboard; Martha Rosler’s “Martha Rosler Reads ‘Vogue,’” a classic piece of feminist video art in which Rosler comically reads aloud from a single issue, live on public-access cable TV; and Wodiczko’s iconic “Homeless Vehicle,” a functional sculpture-turned-shelter that marked the artist’s first collaborative work to bring awareness to the ’80s urban homeless epidemic.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalog featuring in-depth essays and new scholarship from Patrick Jaojoco, Jetzer, Bob Nickas and Leah Pires (published by Rizzoli, 192 pp.).