Take Your Time, Hurry Up to See MAM’s Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s

Elizabeth Peyton (born 1965, USA), Princess Kurt, 1995, Oil on linen
Elizabeth Peyton (born 1965, USA), Princess Kurt, 1995, Oil on linen

Montclair Art Museum’s (MAM) current contemporary art exhibition Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, curated by Alexandra Schwartz (a Gen-X-er), is divided into three periods and three themes: early 90s and identity and the “identity politics” debates, mid ’90s and the digital revolution, and late ’90s through 2001 and globalization. Works on view include installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, video, and digital art. The show’s name is a nod to the early 90s grunge band Nirvana, whose songs and front man Kurt Cobain, were angst-filled and identity and purpose seeking.

“It seems to me that the birth of Contemporary Art was in the 90s,” said Schwartz at the exhibit’s press preview a couple of days before the show opened to the public on February 8. Come As You Are is the first major museum survey to examine the art of this pivotal decade in its historical context.

Catherine Opie (born 1961, USA), Richard and Skeeter, 1994, Chromogenic print

Catherine Opie (born 1961, USA), Richard and Skeeter, 1994, Chromogenic print

Like the 45 artists showcased, I came of age during the decade. I graduated high school in ’91, first exercised my right to vote (for a candidate who played saxophone on MTV), started college, got married, got divorced, started a career, and met my current husband who rang in 2000 with me with a mix of fear (Y2K disasters) and excitement of what was to come. Those ten years were pivotal to my personal growth and development, which is perhaps why I feel the the art works focusing on identity stand out as the most powerful of the exhibit.

Alex Bag (born 1969, USA) Untitled Fall ’95, 1995 57 min, color, sound
Alex Bag (born 1969, USA), Untitled Fall ’95, 1995, 57 min, color, sound

A stand out is Untitled Fall ’95 by Alex Bag, currently a Glen Ridge, NJ resident. The performance video documents the fictionalized life of the NYC School of Visual Arts student, played by Bag herself. Taking the form of a video diary, Bag’s character addresses the camera directly, expressing her thoughts on life and art, which mature significantly over the course of eight semesters. The work is set up in a seating area of bean bag chairs.

Pieces dealing with the digital revolution, will appeal to everyone from Baby Boomers to Millennials, as they are a reminder of the tremendous growth in one decade. Heralded by the launch of the first commercial Internet browser, in 1993, the digital revolution transformed all aspects of contemporary life and led to the creation of internet art.

Aziz + Cucher, Man with a Computer, 1992

Aziz + Cucher, Man with a Computer, 1992


Montclair artists Mendi + Keith Obadikes’ “Blackness for Sale” created in 2001 and at the end of the show, perhaps is the most significant work as it combines identity and racism, digital technology, and the global marketplace — the show’s three central themes. Represented by a screenshot of the Ebay sale listing, before it was removed from the site for being “inappropriate,” Blackness For Sale was the artists attempt to auction off Keith’s “blackness.”

Mendi + Keith Obadike (born 1973, USA), Blackness for Sale, 2001, Screen capture from archived website
Mendi + Keith Obadike (born 1973, USA), Blackness for Sale, 2001, Screen capture from archived website

If Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” sums of the early ’90s Gen-X-ers identity issues and search for meaning and something better, perhaps the 2001 record of the year “Drops of Jupiter” by Train is the perfect song to sum of the feeling at the end of the show:

But tell me, did you sail across the sun?
Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded
And that heaven is overrated?

Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star–
One without a permanent scar?
And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?

Come As You Are: Art of the 1990sCome as You Are is accompanied by the definitive catalogue on the art of the 1990s to date, which includes four overview essays by Schwartz and seven short, thematic essays by some of today’s foremost contemporary art historians. The exhibition will be on view at MAM through May 17, before embarking on national tour.

MAM will offer a wide variety of public and family programs for all ages in connection with the exhibition, including scholarly panel discussions, artist talks, and 1990s-themed events.

Highlights include:

  • February 11 – April 15, 2015 – “Come as You Are: Films of the 90’s”: A series of six screenings of American independent films from the decade organized in collaboration with the Montclair Film Festival.
  • February 2015 – “The History and Future of Internet Art,”: An online panel discussion on the evolution of Internet art during the 1990s featuring artists participating in the exhibition and moderated by Alexandra Schwartz.
  • March 7, 2015 – 1990s-themed dance party
  • May 14, 2015 – “Identity Politics, Then and Now”: A scholarly symposium focused on the identity politics debates during the 1990s and beyond, moderated by Huey Copeland, Associate Professor of the History of Art at Northwestern University.



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