ReFocus: Art of the 1980s

by Adelaide Corey-Disch
Viewers of MOCA’s latest exhibit can’t miss the bright, graphic prints and the bold paintings that mark much of the art produced during the 80s. The ReFocus series has provided a chance to explore the recent history of the collection and of contemporary art. Even if you haven’t seen the past two in the series, ReFocus: Art of the 1980s is worth visiting.
While each ReFocus exhibit has been a mix of art from the Museum’s own collection as well as loans from public and private institutions, ReFocus: Art of 1980s in particular, draws on key works in MOCA’s permanent collection. As MOCA prepares to embark on a new acquisition strategy to build on the collection, it’s worth taking a look back at the 80s as an important time in the museum’s history.
It was in the 1980s, when the MOCA was called the Jacksonville Art Museum, that acquisition of new work was at its peak. During that time Director Bruce Dempsey (now Director of J. Johnson Gallery in Jacksonville Beach) along with the museum’s Collectors Club made many pivotal choices regarding acquisitions, choices that helped plot a course for the collection in the ensuing decades.
While making your way through the exhibit, read the descriptions of the art and the artists as well as the provenance of each piece. Many of the artworks have been loaned from private collectors like Preston Haskell, who owns the Frank Stella prints in the exhibit and is an avid collector of Stella’s work. A few of the artworks are on loan from other institutions, the Mapplethorpes and Basquiats, for example, are on loan from J. Johnson Gallery. Also be on the lookout for the Eric Fischl (Untitled (Dog)), Ed Paschke (Malibu) and a Julian Schnabel (one of three- two are on loan from another institution)- all acquired by the museum during the 80s. And last but not least, you’ll easily spot the Richard Longos owned by the museum, two black and white images of people in business wear. Longo, Fischl, and Schnabel were the quintessential moneymakers of the 80s’ art scene- creating art on a large scale for a booming market. It’s the 80s in all its neon, large-scale glory.
MOCA is currently formulating a new acquisition strategy, and we can hope that they have the audacity (and opportunity) to pursue contemporary acquisitions with the same vigor that the museum showed during its Jacksonville Art Museum days. A sign they are moving in that direction are the videos seen in each ReFocus exhibit. Thompson has fleshed out the past three shows with these time-based works (time-based media works are Contemporary artworks that include video, film, slide, audio, or computer-based technologies), and has acquired the videos displayed in the 70s and 80s exhibits. From the Video Data Bank at the Art Institute School in Chicago, they are the first steps in broadening the museum’s collection to include contemporary media (prior to these purchases, MOCA owned only one time-based media work, which as yet has not been transferred from its original betamax tape).
One of the videos for this acquisition is Antonio Muntada’s Media Ecology Ads: Fuse, Timer, Slow Down. Now part of MOCA’s permanent collection, it illustrates the mass media ideas that artists like Andy Warhol were putting to paper, and shows it in video. In one of the clips (from a series of three) an hourglass slowly counts time as a kitchen timer ticks in the background, unseen. On either side of the hourglass two vertical bars of letters slowly scroll down the screen, spelling out words like ‘pressure,’ ‘information,’ ‘symbol,’ ‘audience,’ ‘interpretation’ and ‘language.’ The words illustrate themes dealt with by many prominent artists of the decade, like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger (neither of whom appears in this exhibition), as well as James Rosenquist and Richard Prince (whose work does appear in this show). As Thompson notes, the museum can’t afford to buy big-ticket items by the likes of Holzer, Kruger, Jeff Koons, or Chuck Close (although a Chuck Close is in this exhibition, on loan). Prices for those artists have soared since their emergence in the 80s.
But with the art world growing in increasingly interesting and kaleidoscopic directions these days, renown and celebrity aren’t a necessity for moving or thought-provoking art. The recent Whitney Biennial exhibition (which closed this May) is a great example of the myriad of young artists that have cropped up, making art in new and unexpected ways. From video to installation and drawing, art is pushing boundaries. ReFocus: Art of the 1980s shows a time when MOCA was doing the very same thing.
ReFocus: Art of the 1980s will be on exhibit until January 6. Related events include:

October 11, 7 pm LECTURE: I Was a Factory Worker: Inside the Warhol Machine Barbara Colaciello, Education Director of Players by the Sea, will give a behind-the-scenes look at life in The Factory with Andy Warhol and the New York City art world during the 1980s. Her personal photos and stories will illustrate this legendary meeting place for artists, musicians, and writers.

October 20, 4-11:30 pm ‘80s John Hughes Film Marathon MOCA celebrates ReFocus: Art of the 1980s with a tribute to one of the era’s defining filmmakers: John Hughes. Get dressed up for a marathon screening of three of his classic films: The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Admission includes all three films, dinner, a costume contest, and trivia throughout the night. A cash bar also will be available. Guests may choose among one of three fantastic entrees created by Cafe Nola. Dinner options are available on website. Early Bird Tickets are $25 until Oct. 10. After this date tickets will be $30. Seats are limited so order now.

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

MOCA Incarnations
What’s in a name?
Before its current name- and home- MOCA had quite a few reincarnations. Founded in 1924 as the Jacksonville Fine Art Society before becoming the Jacksonville Art Museum in 1948 (with its location on Art Museum Drive), the museum didn’t move to its current location downtown until 2000. With the new location came another new name- Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art (JMOMA). It remained JMOMA for six years until changing again to its current title- Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville. While the name is relatively new, the collection, Ben Thompson, MOCA’s curator, points out, was actually established before that of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens’. Since the founding of MOCA’s collection, additional acquisitions and gifts have grown it to its current inventory of around 1,000 artworks.