Kinsey Sullivan
February 08, 2015 8:00 am

The ’90s was a magical decade. Think about it- Kate Moss! Nirvana! Are You Afraid of the Dark! Lisa Frank folders! Everywhere you looked, coolness was being created.

The art world in particular was experiencing some major, radical new trends in the ’90s, fueled, in part, by a crumbling of the art market in the late ’80s. Minority voices and politically conscious art became more prominent, laying the foundation for the identity-driven art of the today. Some of the more prominent elements were the YBAs (Young British Artists), the Outsider Art movement, the rise of video art, and Grunge. Let’s stop and take a second to give some love to some of the greatest pieces of the decade.

1990: Victor Vasarely, “Tsillage”

In the 90s, one of the more important sub-movements was Op Art, or the art of optical illusions. Vasarely is one of the most important Op Artists. Given the kind of extremes in fashion and culture at the time (I mean, Clueless and Pearl Jam were basically happening at the same time), it makes sense that artists would be questioning the nature of perception and playing with reality.

1991: Damien Hirst, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”

Damien Hirst is arguably the best-known of the Young British Artists, and is still one of the most popular contemporary artists. This piece launched him to international stardom – and for good reason! It’s both eye-catching and subversive.

1992: Philip-Lorca DiCorca, “Tim Morgan Jr., 21 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25 / Joe Egure, 18 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25”

This photograph is part of DiCorcia’s amazing, groundbreaking series, “Hustlers.” For the series, DiCorcia created staged portraits of male prostitutes on Santa Monica Boulevard. In the titles for the photos, he includes their hourly rate. It’s a arresting portrayal of life on the edge, and one that fits right in with the ’90s approach to art, sexuality, reality and culture.

1993: Nari Ward, “Amazing Grace”

This enormous installation by Brooklyn-based Jamaican artist Nari Ward features abandoned strollers arranged around a central walkway made of fire hoses. All the pieces in this installation were previously used and abandoned, making it even more unsettling. However, it’s ultimately intended to be a hopeful and even redemptive piece.

1994: Art Club 2000, “Untitled”

Art Club 2000 was a collective founded by Colin de Land, a New York art dealer, and seven art students from The Cooper Union School of Art. The group was most well-known for their staged photographic satires of the mainstream pop culture in the ’90s. The GAP was a frequent target, which you can totally see in this photo.

1995: Jeff Koons, “Balloon Dog”

You’ve probably seen this one a million times, but that doesn’t make it any less important to the ’90s art scene. Jeff Koons’s satirical, playful balloon dog is an absurd elevation of kitsch. It was literally perfect for a time when Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty ruled.

1996: Chuck Close, “Maggie”

It’s kind of like artist Chuck Close inverted all notions of traditional portraiture with his signature style, fusing a formal emphasis on subject while highlighting those post-modern darlings, method and medium. 1996’s “Maggie” made the cover of Science Mag, and stands as further proof that art in the ’90s had a really playful relationship with reality.

1997: Margaret Kilgallen, Mural at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The late, great Margaret Kilgallen was one of the leaders of the Outsider Art movement. She created gorgeous paintings inspired by folk art, retro signage, and American culture. Her work is just beautiful, understated and laced with meaning. She died in 2001 of breast cancer, after forgoing chemotherapy because she was pregnant and wanted to carry the baby to term. Three weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Asha, with husband Barry McGee, Kilgallen passed away.

1998: Tracey Emin, My Bed

Tracey Emin is another YBA that captured the art world’s attention with her brutal honesty and oversharing (before that was cool). “My Bed” shows Emin’s rumpled bed, with all the various bits and pieces that accompany her time in bed – both sexual and non-sexual. It was definitely viewed as transgressive at the time, and still does carry a bit of that shock value.

1999: Prema Murthy, “Bindigirl”

Prema Murthy’s portrait, “Bindigirl,” is a super-cool, super-’90s commentary of sexuality and cultural appropriation. As Prema describes on her website, “Bindi is a construct of fe/male desire, created out of what is deemed ‘exotic’ and ‘erotic’.” These concepts are still so timely! I wonder what she thinks about Snapchat.

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