When I was twenty, I went to see a photography show at the Museum of Modern Art called The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort, curated by Peter Galassi. (So yes, I stole his line). The photos have haunted me ever since, which was clearly Galassi’s goal. (If you want to see what I mean, you can find some images here, here, and here and here).
It was a weird time. George Bush the elder was President, about a year away from losing the election to Bill Clinton. At my (very) politically liberal, liberal arts college we pushed back against what Bush represented to us: income inequality, the Gordon Gekko ethos of “greed is good,” racism woven into the war on drugs. (After all, due south of the museum on Wall Street, traders were doing blow off of naked models covered in sushi, while Black people were going to jail for crack).
We were energized by protesting apartheid in South Africa. Act Up was staging “die-ins” to get the medical community to finally take AIDs seriously. But for all that energy, there was a strange feeling of stagnation. Bret Easton Ellis had given us Less Than Zero, capturing an emptiness we all seemed to share, although we couldn’t quite figure out why.
There were admittedly some clues to the emptiness. Twenty years before the show, Chris Burden shot himself and called it art, and then art became solely about commerce; the commerce was the art. Jeff Koons created the Balloon Dog, which is just a large sculpture of a balloon dog, and we all played along as if it were a brilliant idea. It seemed, after all, like the world had run out of ideas anyway — any idea was a cause for celebration. (Little did we know that we were on the precipice of some of the biggest, most irreversible ideas, and a world filled with cat videos on YouTube). Something was wrong, nothing was wrong and yet everything was wrong.
New York City was still wild with artists and crime, that is until Giuliani became mayor and got rid of both. I was convinced I was going to be an artist, living in a paint splattered loft somewhere. But there was also a part of me that believed I would end up a mother in the suburbs, with a large jangly key chain, beige walls and bright white wainscotting.