Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s

Jan 27–May 14, 2017

Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s presents a focused look at painting from this decade with works drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. 

In the 1980s, painting recaptured the imagination of the contemporary art world against a backdrop of expansive change. An unprecedented number of galleries appeared on the scene, particularly in downtown New York. Groundbreaking exhibitions—that blurred distinctions between high and low art—were presented at alternative and artist-run spaces. New mediums, including video and installation art, were on the rise. Yet despite the growing popularity of photography and video, many artists actively embraced painting, freely exploring its bold physicality and unique capacity for expression and innovation.

The exhibition includes work by artists often identified with this explosive period—Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sherrie Levine, David Salle, and Julian Schnabel—as well as by several lesser-known painters. These artists explored the traditions of figuration and history painting, and offered new interpretations of abstraction. Many addressed fundamental questions about artmaking in their work, while others took on political issues including AIDS, feminism, gentrification, and war. In the face of a media-saturated environment, artists in the 1980s recommitted to painting. Far from dead, painting came to represent an important intersection between new ways of seeing and a seemingly traditional way of making art. 

Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s is organized by Jane Panetta, associate curator, with Melinda Lang, curatorial assistant.


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Whitney Stories
Fast Forward: Joyce Pensato In The Studio

From her studio in Brooklyn, Joyce Pensato discusses the influences behind her paintings and how the 1980s were a turning point for her career.

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Audio guides

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from the exhibition.

View guide

Explore works from this exhibition
in the Whitney's collection

View 44 works

In the News

"The Whitney Revisits the '80s, a Decade of Macho and Money."
The New York Times

“The powerful excitement of the decade has been languishing in a blind spot of art history. An exhibit at the Whitney comes to the rescue.”
The New Yorker

"An absorbing group show that brings together about 40 paintings by as many artists."

“A show of 1980s American painting at the Whitney Museum includes serious and playful meditations on sexuality, AIDS, wealth, and politics.”
The Daily Beast

"Painting From the 1980s, When Brash Met Flash"
The New York Times

“The Whitney Exhibition Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s Reinforces the Purpose of Painting”