Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

The logic of titling a retrospective of the shifting art world of the 1990s after DA Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary about Bob Dylan comes from a striking parallel between that iconic portrait of a confrontational and driven artist on the verge of vast success as the world shifted around him, and the radical changes that swept through the entire art world during the 1990s, a parallel which provided the catalyst for this exhibition.

Pennebaker’s film captured Dylan’s attempts to balance his highly individual creative vision with the exploding marketplace of consumer demand for rock music as an art form. During the 1990s, the avant-garde world of the visual arts was similarly swept by the arrival of serious money, public notoriety and powerful market forces, while still striving to address the social themes of the decade.  “The film also elucidates the perennial artistic struggle between creativity’s ferocious need to move forward and leave the past behind, and the equally strong desire to resist change, to stay the course. Both the world at large and the art world have changed a great deal since the 1990s,” says MOCA chief curator Helen Molesworth.

Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA comprises works from MOCA’s permanent collection that identify the decade’s key concerns and transformations. While the 1980s were shaped by the advent of identity politics, and a critique of the nexus of race, gender, and sexuality, the 1990s both extended and challenged these ideas. It was a decade that saw the end of the Cold War, the rise of the internet, and in MOCA’s LA home, the riots that followed the videotaped beating of Rodney King by the police. It was also a decade which saw LGBTQ individuals and their own fight for civil rights rising to a new public prominence.

Many artists turned to large-scale installations as a way to convey the complicated interface between the public and the museum, or to articulate the dissonance between individual and public identities. The exhibition includes works by Catherine Opie, Cady Noland, Sarah Sze, and Paul McCarthy, among others, and is divided into six thematically grouped sections, titled: Installation; The Outmoded; Noir America; Place and Identity; Touch, Intimacy, and Queerness; and Space, Place, and Scale.

Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, until 11 July, The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 152 North Central Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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1. Installation view of Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, 12 March–11 July, 2016 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Brian Forrest.