ReFocus: Art of the 80's. MOCA-J's Sizzling New Show!

September 14, 2012 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

MOCA Presents Radical, Overlooked Art of the 1980s! MoCA Director Marcelle Polednik's retrospective series of shows reviewing the work of the past 50 years of art is accelerating as it gets closer to catching up to the present. This ReFocus is going to be the hottest show yet, and the museum has pulled out all the stops to present a truly hot opening this coming up weekend, Saturday, Sept 15th! Join us after the jump for the amazing details of this awesome show!

Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988)
Rome Pays Off, 1984/2005
Courtesy of the J. Johnson Gallery

If there is any upside to the Culture Wars of the 1990s, during which almost every art institution and independent movement in this city (with the exception of the Symphony) was squashed and torn apart from the inside in the name of Cultural Purification, it might be the things that are finally beginning to emerge from the ashes of the Bill O Reilly Era.

Jacksonville lost a lot of cultural ground in the all out assault against the arts that was launched in the wake of Robert Maplethorpe and Andre Serrano's public excoriation at the hands of national politics.  It translated to real pain here in the Bold New City and the hostile takeovers of several of the institutional boards.  There were casualties of course, not the least of which was the old Jacksonville Art Museum in the mid 90s.

In the case of the Museum, the Culture Wars had done enough damage that the collapse of longtime supporter, Ira Koger was pretty much a mortal blow. In the fifteen years since then, the remnants of what was once an important organization have struggled for its very survival as well as attempting to define its identity.

Municipally, t was given a big boost during the Delaney years, and the Good City Council that governed the city from 99 to 2005, when it was given a permanent home at its present day downtown location.

This was not without a struggle of course, there were several really dicey moments for the Museum as it confronted the problem of reestablishing credibility and financial support from the cultural philanthropists of the city.  The support of Preston Haskell and Jennifer Johnson (under a variety of nom de plumes and anonymous guises) simply cannot be underestimated.  Without them, it wouldnt have survived long enough to make it into the fold of the University of North Florida.  Uncoincidentally, while the University was governed by the same man--- John Delaney---under whose Mayoral administration the organization was given a second chance at life.

Today the Museum is well launched to regaining credibility, both locally and nationally under the extraordinary tutelage of its new director, Marcelle Polednik.  Diminutive, and elegant in an old world kind of way, Poledniks bright black eyes betray the intelligence and savvy that she has brought from a lifetime career in museums.  She worked at the famous Whitney Museum in NYC, an institution generally regarded as one of the most influential and groundbreaking of its kind in the world.

Upon arrival, she had to decide how best to reconnect to a community that had been basically cut off from the world of contemporary art for a little more than a decade.  Hence the retrospective series, ReFocus.

Its ended up being brilliant fun, and an easy way to learn the history of ideas and concepts in art for the past fifty years for people just developing an interest, and a great trip of nostalgia for longtime afficianados.

So far it has just been extraordinary to see the Warhols, the Cristos the Stellas.  Wonderful to reconnect with so many reassembled collections that trace the development of art through the decades.  But the new show, the Art of the 1980s promises to be, by far, the best exhibition for years.

Here is the press release from the steadfast Carl Holman, marketing director for the Museum:
(JACKSONVILLE, FL) -- The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida, explores the art of Generations X and Y with "ReFocus: Art of the 1980s," opening Saturday, Sept. 15, and running until Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013.

"ReFocus: Art of the 1980s" showcases the art you might have missed while you were, as Madonna sang, busy living in a material world. Many of the major figures of contemporary art —David Salle, Jean Michel-Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Eric Fischl—came to prominence during this important decade and their influences still reverberate today. While observers hailed the movements of the '80s as a "return to painting," what matters equally about the art of this era is the artists' conscious and explicit role as celebrities and the manner in which the limelight allowed them to act as interpreters, mediators, and trendsetters of cultural, social and political developments. Other established artists highlighted in the exhibition, such as Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, David Hockney and James Rosenquist, either experienced career resurgences or remained influential on the younger generation of artists during the '80s.
"For many of the artists in this exhibition, it meant grappling with complex questions: In a world increasingly filled with mass-media images, what is the role of the visual arts? How can artists make images that either compete with or counter the powerful images produced by advertising and Hollywood?" said MOCA Director Marcelle Polednik.

Abstract, figurative and expressionistic painting within the visual arts made a major comeback in the 1980s following nearly a decade of emphasis on video, performance, earthwork and installations that eschewed the traditional gallery or museum settings. Neo-Expressionism, new image painting, the East village scene, graffiti art and neo-conceptualism were a few of the movements that reached zeniths of varying heights and vulnerability during the era.

"MOCA will be showcasing the important art and artists of the decade - the amazing works created by not only those artists who became household names, but also the influential ones who the public or media might have overlooked," Polednik said.

Alex Katz (American, b. 1927)
Red Coat, 1983
Gift of Dr. Anwar Kamal. MOCA Jacksonville Permanent Collection.

The exhibition launches with an '80s-themed grand opening from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15, to help visitors get in the totally radical spirit of the decade. Fun, games and music outside bring the museum alive, while inside MOCA's staff, docents and others will supervise "explanation stations" to provide families with in-depth analysis about key works and movements of the period. Café Nola also will be open for extended lunch.

"ReFocus: Art of the 1980s" also includes substantial public programs that further the educational goals of the project. From lectures about art, history and culture to in-gallery tours; from free brochures to on-line content and audio guides, visitors to MOCA will have numerous opportunities to explore this significant period in greater depth and richness.

MOCA is expanding the exhibition experience beyond the art through a special partnership with the Jacksonville Public Library. From books by Tom Wolfe to music by U2, plus films and other materials, the art, artists and culture from each decade come to life. Check out the pop culture universe database, special monthly programming, a selection of books, music and movies by decade and more at

Here is a full list of the amazing artists whose work will be featured in the show.  Its really incredible to think that all of these giants will be in the same place at the same time.

Artists in the exhibition:

Alice Aycock
Jennifer Bartlett
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jill Cannady
John Chamberlain
Sarah Charlesworth
Louisa Chase
Sandro Chia
Chuck Close
Mark di Suvero
Richard Diebenkorn
Jim Dine
Eric Fischl
Lucian Freud
Gilbert and George
Michael Goldberg
Nan Goldin
Jack Goldstein
Peter Halley
Keith Haring
Richard Heipp
Richard Heipp
Al Held
David Hockney

Paul Jenkins
John Baldessari
Roberto Juarez
Alex Katz
Wesley Kimler
Louise Lawler
Alexander Liberman
Robert Longo
Florence U. “Fonchen” Lord
Markus Lupertz
Clyde Lynds
Robert Mangold
Louise Nevelson
Ed Paschke
Richard Prince
James Rosenquist
David Salle
Joel Schapiro
Randall Schmit
Julian Schnabel
Charles Seliger
Cindy Sherman
Doug and Mike Starn (The Starn Twins)
Frank Stella

Barry Tinsley
William Tucker
Andy Warhol
David Wojnarowicz

This is truly going to be a brilliant show, probably one of the best in a few years, and what a privilege it is to have this retrospective in Downtown.  The Museum is clearly leading by example with its tie in to the Library, incidentally.

The J. Johnson Gallery is lending one of the major peices of the show for ReFocus:  A regal painting by Jean Michel Basquiat.  Its very easy to forget that this city has world class art collections represented here, and one of the most thrilling ones in the country can be found at the J. Johnson Gallery at the beaches.  This is probably no coincidence, since it is also the base of operations for Bruce Dempsey, the dazzling Impressario who led the former Jacksonville Art Museum through its high years.

The Opening is set for Saturday, and the crowd is already promising to be one of the most bustling to date, but the show will be up for couple of months,  and we plan on bringing lots and lots of updates on the artists and events associated with ReFocus.

Get out and see this show!  Its like the ghost of Christmas Present, Look upon it well for you may never see its like again.

Exhibition Sponsors: Maria Cox, Julie and Michael McKenny, Dr. Barbara Sharp and Dr. Todd Sack
Contributing Sponsors: Agility Press; Brunet-Garcia Advertising, Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville; the City of Jacksonville; Florida Division of Cultural Affairs; PRI Productions, Inc.; Sunshine Frames, Inc.; Waterproofing Specialists , Inc.; and WJCT Public Broadcasting.

For more information about "ReFocus: Art of the 1980s" and its related activities, visit or call MOCA at (904) 366-6911.

article by stephen dare