“Totally Radical: Designing the 1980s” Inspires Viewers to Explore a Nuanced Version of the Era

The exhibition is available to view through May 27 at the University of Minnesota’s Goldstein Museum of Design

Photos courtesy of Goldstein Museum of Design

Hand-blown glass vase, 1983, designed by Thomas A. Philabaum

After the countercultural movements of the 1960s and early 1970s, along with the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, oil embargoes, and economic crises, the 1980s gave rise to a new conservatism characterized by the policies of President Ronald Reagan. What do you remember? Yuppies, materialism, consumerism? Big shoulder pads and big hair? “The Breakfast Club” and the advent of blockbuster movies? Duran, Duran, Princess Diana, and Culture Club? MTV, punk rock, or hip hop?

Now showing through May 27 at the Goldstein Museum of Design (GMD) is “Totally Radical: Designing the 1980s,” an exhibition that draws on the GMD’s permanent collection to examine “design through the fractured lens of postmodernism.” According to the museum, “Whether your recollection of the past sides more with luxe styles or dystopic futures, the 1980s was a highly mediated era of extremes. Ironically, this exhibition pushes against the idea that the 1980s are a highly definable decade.”

SONY Walkman, 1985, SONY Corporation

Through a range of objects, from the SONY Walkman to tracksuits, Hmong embroidery to Philippe Starck’s citrus squeezer, a Thomas Philabaum glass vase to a Jan Myers-Newbury quilt, “there are various other frames of reference and design movement for the 1980s, making ‘the look’ of the era more idiosyncratic than one initially thinks.”

Now that certain styles from the 1980s are resurging, including acid-washed jeans and white tennies, “Totally Radical: Designing the 1980s” is poised to inspire visitors to reconsider their understanding of the era and explore a more nuanced version.

Blue suede pumps, 1987, designed by Mary Popps

Gallery 241 is on the second floor of McNeal Hall at 1985 Buford Avenue in St. Paul. Free admission. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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