Summer of ’82 looks at the work of seventeen artists who were all active in the emergent Lower Manhattan art scene during the early 1980s, with a particular focus on work produced during the year 1982. Rather than serve as an overview of early 1980’s stylistics, the premise of the exhibition is to consider the emergence of a new bohemian generation at a moment when Fun Gallery had opened the year before on East 10th Street, followed by Gracie Mansion Gallery and Nature Morte. Looking back, the summer of ’82 was the moment that gave birth to both Details Magazine and Heresies’ Collective’s Racism issue, to Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The sounds of that summer were ESG, Blondie, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, Laurie Anderson’s O Superman, and Grandmaster Flash’s The Message. It was the summer of ET, Rambo, and Bladerunner, not to mention the heyday of Rene Ricard, Tehching Hsieh and Art on the Beach. 1982 gave us the finest wine vintages in a generation and the greatest World Cup of living memory. We saw Rudi Fuchs’ Documenta, Valentino’s ‘retrospective’ at the Met, watched England sink Argentina’s ‘Belgrano,’ applauded as the Joyce Theater re-opened, partied at Danceteria, Studio 54, the Mudd Club, and Peppermint Lounge, and gave money to the first fundraiser for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, hosted by Larry Kramer.
Seen in retrospect, the Summer of ’82 might be interpreted as the final chapter of the sexual revolution that had burned so brightly through the 1970s. At that moment, early mortality statistics from HIV/AIDS were still under two hundred and the disease’s origins remained a mystery. A year later none of that would be true anymore: the CDC coined the term AIDS in September 1982, and a year later confirmed that it was transmitted through bodily fluids by way of sexual contact or IV drugs. By late 1983, more than a thousand deaths had been recorded, and the gay community was in full-blown panic, with many having already lost someone close to them, and/or busy tending to the afflicted in their midst.
The artists whose works are included in Summer of ’82 represent a moment not unlike our own, when politics, gender and sexual orientation appear to collide with unrelenting force, at a moment in time when the Reagan government’s involvement in regional military conflicts in Central America were wreaking havoc and destruction that were viscerally reminiscent of the all too recent quagmire in Vietnam. Environmental concerns were mounting rapidly following the Three Mile Island and Love Canal disasters, and political activism around police brutality and equal rights for women. Graffiti, break dancing and hip-hop ruled New York’s street life, launching a language of urban poetry that millions would soon recognize as speaking their own thoughts. Many of these themes appear throughout the work in Summer of ’82, which is installed salon-style to provide a sense of the group show aesthetic of the period.