Be Kind, Rewind: A Look Back at the 1990s with “Come as You Are”

As I put my nineties mixtape playlist together recently, I was reminded just how many cultural points of entry there are into the nineties. I spent the first half of the decade scouring for clothes for my grunge wardrobe at thrift stores and spent the latter half on AOL Instant Messenger, writing HTML on my Compaq Presario for my local ska website in Houston (hosted by Geocities), followed by a very sharp turn into house/rave culture in the late nineties. (See what I mean?) Everyone came out of the nineties from a different experience, and in many cases, from several experiences.

A man standing in the galleries looking at art
Photo: AzulOx Photography

It’s with this in mind that the Blanton opens Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, the first major museum exhibition to historically examine artworks produced during this tumultuous decade and the first to specifically examine emerging artists from this period. The exhibition explores everything from the AIDS crisis to Internet art that emerged from the Silicon Vallery dot-com bubble in the mid-to-late nineties.

So many of the art world and art-making precedents that exist today were born in the 1990s — from digitization of artworks and the art market to diverse, international rosters in major group shows and museum programs to the notions of institutional critique and social practice. The kind of visibility that artists of color, women, LGBTQ and international artists enjoy now increased dramatically in the early 1990s.

Installation view of Come as You Are featuring Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Placebo), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in silver cellophane, endless supply Overall dimensions vary with installation, ideal weight: 1,000–1,200 lbs The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Elisa and Barry Stevens
Installation view of Come as You Are featuring Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Placebo), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in silver cellophane, endless supply, overall dimensions vary with installation; Installation view of: Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, Blanton Museum of Art, 2016, Managing Cur. Evan Garza. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

Come as You Are, which takes its name from the famous Nirvana track, includes a large candy pile installation by Felix Gonzalez-Torres; major works by Gran Fury, a New York artist collective active during the AIDS crisis; photographic prints by Catherine Opie, Gabriel Orozco, Sharon Lockhart, Vik Muniz and Mariko Mori; paintings by Glenn Ligon, Byron Kim, Shahzia Sikander, Gary Simmons, Karen Kilimnik, and more; video works by Andrea Fraser, Doug Aitken, Diana Thater, Alex Bag, and Cheryl Donegan; installations and sculptural work by Jason Rhoades, Pepón Osorio, and Mark Dion; and much more.

With the birth of the Internet, the nineties was the first decade to splinter off into countless new genres and subgenres—some real, some digital—and the artworks in the exhibition reflect this new global melting pot. Now that more than 25 years have passed since the dawn of the nineties, we can chart the history and influence of the emerging art of the decade in a powerful way. Come check it out, it’ll be rad. And bring us your mixtape! 

Evan Garza is the Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton, and the Managing Curator of Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s.

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