Topics in the News
The Art Boom
The wealth and prosperity enjoyed by upper- and middle-class Americans during much of the 1980s brought about tremendous growth in the art market, particularly in New York City, as Americans rushed to invest in art. Between 1983 and 1985 more than one hundred galleries opened in New York, seventy-eight of them in the East Village. Gallery sales in 1984 alone exceeded $1 billion. That year 50 percent of all auction transactions were under $1,000; only four years later the average price paid for a work of art had risen to between $7,000 and $11,000. Top auction prices for single works, paid mostly by dealers, hovered at about $3 million early in the decade. By the end of the 1980s individual works were selling to private bidders for ten to twenty times that amount. Sales at each of the two biggest New York auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's, surpassed $1 billion in 1987 and accounted for a third of the world's art transactions. During the decade a few private collectors saw the works they owned appreciate in value by as much as 700 percent. By 1989 the worldwide cash turnover in the art industry was estimated at $50 billion per year.
This huge increase in art collecting and investing was caused by several factors, including changes in taxes on capital gains, which favored accumulating all sorts of assets;...
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As the art market exploded in the 1980s, young artists were ready to take advantage of the public's desire to invest in art. By middecade many had become as well-known as pop-music stars—and as image conscious. Like their 1960s predecessors Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, artists of the 1980s learned to market not only their work but their own public personae. Neo-Expressionists Julian Schnabel and David Salle sought to make their lives as legendary as their work. Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf caught the Zeitgeist of hip-hop culture and sold their street sensibility as fashion to the malls of suburbia. Others, such as Jeff Koons, "sampled" and recycled words and images from other media (and earlier eras) or, like Jenny Holzer, caught the public's appetite for slogans and sound bites. Much of 1980s art, from graffiti to sloganeering, functioned as advertising for the artist. The brash image mongering and self-promotion of many artists—like that of their much-hyped counter-parts in music, literature, movies, and video—helped to inject a desire for urban hipness, for style over substance, into the culture at large. With the media at their feet and their works selling for often astonishing sums, fine artists were among the sawiest of 1980s "players."
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Art Trends: Politics and Performance
In the late 1970s Jenny Holzer's wry, eye-catching, and vaguely subversive "Truisms" began showing up on posters all over Manhattan. Holzer's aphorisms gained effectiveness through their stark presentation: bland typography against passionless white backgrounds. By juxtaposing Truisms that were deliberately contradictory—such as "Everyone's work is equally important" followed by "Exceptional people deserve special concessions"—Holzer disquieted viewers who might otherwise have read her clichés as either truth or personal propaganda. Some of her best-known texts include: "Abuse of power should come as no surprise"; "Murder has its sexual side"; and "Romantic love was invented to manipulate women." By 1982 these and other Truisms were appearing in major gallery shows, and by middecade they were adorning T-shirts and other products. Holzer moved on from handbills to wall plaques, then finally to electronic display boards. A 1982 display on the Spectacolor board in Times Square caused a stir by including messages such as "Money creates taste" and "Private property created crime." In 1984 Holzer collaborated with twenty-two other artists to create Sign on a Truck, a public forum on the presidential campaign issues of that year. She called this experiment with political propaganda "art applied to rabble rousing." As her work, which included Inflammatory Essays...
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The conservative climate of the United States during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush set the stage for a series of controversies over the place of art in American culture. Many of these battles pitted members of the religious right against artists whose work they considered indecent, subversive, or blasphemous. Others were fought over issues of racism and patriotism, and some involved works of art long viewed as classics by the public at large. Inevitably most of these "culture wars" became political struggles, with proponents of "decency" and "moral values" butting heads with defenders of artistic expression and the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Helms versus the NEA.
When the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) came up for a five-year budget review in 1989, it came under fire from Sen. Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican from North Carolina. Helms was outraged that taxpayers were (indirectly) helping to fund art that he and many other religious conservatives considered indecent. One example he cited was an exhibit of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (who had recently died of an AIDS-related illness) that featured homoerotic and sadomasochistic imagery. The second, a traveling show organized by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary...
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During the late 1970s an underground urban movement known as "hip-hop" began to develop in the South Bronx area of New York City. Encompassing graffiti art, break dancing, rap music, and fashion, hip-hop became the dominant cultural movement of the African American and Hispanic communities in the 1980s. Tagging, rapping, and break dancing were all artistic variations on the male competition and one-upmanship of street gangs. Sensing that gang members' often violent urges could be turned into creative ones, Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation, a loose confederation of street-dance crews, graffiti artists, and rap musicians. The popularity of hip-hop spread quickly to mainstream white consumers through movies, music videos, radio play, and media coverage. The resulting flood of attention from wealthy investors, art dealers, movie and video producers, and trend-conscious consumers made hip-hop a viable avenue to success for black and Hispanic ghetto youth. Rap music in particular found a huge interracial audience. After 1985, when the mania for graffiti art and break dancing began to wane, rap music continued to gain popularity, emerging as one of the most original music forms of the decade.
Gang graffiti, long a staple of urban life, was elevated to the status of a respected art form in the 1980s. The South...
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While the summer adventure movies Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) had seemed state-of-the-art in the 1970s, the screen spectaculars of the 1980s made them look like student films. The record-shattering profits of those two movies had created an insatiable demand by producers for even bigger successes. As box-office profits went through the roof, budgets went out the window. At the same time the demographic profile of the American movie audience was shifting increasingly to male teenage viewers. As a result American audiences were bombarded every summer with more and more slick special effects, juvenile comedies, futuristic fantasies, macho action adventures, rock-star soundtracks, and high-tech horror. Despite protests from the critics every big hit seemed to be followed by a parade of increasingly less original sequels. From the trend-setting science fiction of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 through the spectacular comic-book spin-off Batman in 1989, the 1980s were the years of the blockbuster. Most of these
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Hollywood Under Reagan
The Movie President.
During the era of Hollywood's megabuck resurgence, a former movie actor was in the White House. President Ronald Reagan retained his fondness for his old profession, making frequent allusions to movies during his campaigns. One of his best-known lines was "Win one for the Gipper," which he spoke while playing Notre Dame football star George Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American (1940). Reagan's political persona often resembled that of an old-fashioned Western hero. In fact, John Wayne's 1956 movie The Searchers was one of the president's favorites. So was The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), which he mentioned when praising acts of Korean War heroism. Reagan's Teflon-like media sheen was the envy of publicists, marketers, and advertising executives, all of whom benefited from his trademark use of sound bites and quotable quips. Perhaps his most quoted line was "Go ahead, make my day," which he lifted from the Clint Eastwood hit Sudden Impact (1983) and used to great and humorous effect during a 1984 debate with Democratic challenger Walter Mondale. The line reinforced the heroic, tough-guy image he used to promote his brand of conservatism and patriotism in the Cold War against the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union. The media, in turn, picked up on Reagan's movie mindset when they nicknamed his planned expensive, high-tech Strategic Defense Initiative...
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In the mid 1980s a group of hotshot young writers attained celebrity with novels that explored the decade-long obsession with drugs, money, cheap sex, instant gratification—and celebrity. This literary "brat pack," which included Jay Mclnerney, Bret Easton Ellis, and Tama Janowitz, shrewdly tapped the passive MTV mindset of young Americans. Their chief subject—young, privileged urban hipsters disillusioned by the seeming decadence of their empty social scenes—made them the darlings of the yuppie-hungry media and millions of wanna-be-hip readers. These stories were light on plot and character but rich in dropped names, pop-culture references, and slick surface descriptions of galleries, lofts, offices, studios, and shopping malls. The Village Voice dubbed the style "socialite realism." Mclnerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984), narrated in the second person, traces the aimless days and cocaine-laden nights of a young New York magazine fact checker whose fashion-model wife has left him, Ellis's Less Than Zero (1985) follows the cocaine-filled days and bleak nights of a rich, burned-out Los Angeles student and his rich, shopped-out friends. Janowitz's Slaves of New York (1986)
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The music video, in which short performances accompany and illustrate songs, appeared out of nowhere in the early 1980s to become the most influential—and the only new—art form of the decade. As advertisements for new recordings and as self-promotion for the artist, music videos captured the capitalist spirit of 1980s art. Artistically these videos were a mixed lot, ranging from electrifying to turgid. Most fell somewhere between these extremes—a typical video was a quirky, dreamlike montage of images (a "minimovie") designed to illustrate fantasies or approximate the live performances of the artist or band. In their cultural impact videos accomplished much more than advertising, making arguments about their overt commercialism of small consequence. The music video single-handedly revitalized the slumping recording industry, revolutionized television, expanded radio formatting, ignited the careers of dozens of unknown music performers, breathed new life into dance and choreography, and opened avenues of potential in the movie industry. It also changed marketing and audience demographics by creating a new inter-connection and interdependence among television, movies, and music.
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In 1983 a single talent redefined the style, course, and possibilities of music videos—Michael Jackson. In making recording history with Thriller, the top-selling album of all time, he earned the tag "one-man rescue team for the record business" from Time magazine. The success of his album was indeed extraordinary; largely owing to Thriller, the recording industry in 1983 had its best year since 1978. The album spent thirty-seven weeks of 1983 at number one on the Billboard album chart; by early 1984 30 million copies had been sold, and it was still selling at a rate of more than a million copies a week worldwide. At the height of Jacksonmania, Thriller sold a million copies every four days. Jackson released a record-setting seven Top 10 singles from the album, including the number-one hits "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" in 1983. He also became the first artist in history to top the single and album charts in both traditional pop and black categories, and he was the first artist of the decade to have two songs in the Top 5 simultaneously. In 1984 Jackson was given a public-service award by President Ronald Reagan, and the singer won an unprecedented eight Grammys for Thriller, which went on to sell more than 40 million copies. Making about two dollars for each album sold in the United States, Jackson earned at least $40 million and...
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British pop performer Bob Geldof of the 1970s group Boomtown Rats single-handedly started a craze for "charity rock" in the mid 1980s. In 1984 Geldof became concerned about the plight of famine-ravaged Africa and decided to organize a relief project. Under the umbrella name of Band Aid, a group of well-known performers—including Bono of U2, Sting, George Michael, Boy George, Paul Young, and Simon LeBon—recorded "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Released during the 1984 holiday season, the song struck chords of sympathy and guilt with its chilling lyrics describing a draught-ravaged continent "where nothing ever grows" and "no rain or rivers flow." As Bono screamed, "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you," British and American Christmas shoppers dug into their pockets. The song went to number one in England and climbed as high as number thirteen in America, selling 3 million copies. The Band Aid single and a subsequent album raised $11 million in relief funds, but Geldof also achieved something bigger: he raised awareness of the crisis among millions of pop-music fans.
'We Are the World."
Aware of Geldof's efforts across the Atlantic, Harry Belafonte became more concerned about conditions in Africa in early 1985, while watching a television special that showed an Australian doctor working in Ethiopia. Belafonte called Ken...
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The Theater Boom
After lackluster performances in the 1970s, Broadway rebounded in the 1980s with bigger shows and bigger stars than it had boasted in years. Production budgets and ticket prices were also bigger. In 1980 the typical cost for mounting a big show was about $1 million. By the end of the decade the cost had mushroomed to four or five times that amount. The $4 million production cost for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats in 1982 set a Broadway record; only six years later his Phantom of the Opera cost $8 million. Theatergoers, who paid about ten dollars for a seat in the mid 1970s, found themselves spending between twenty-five and forty-five dollars a ticket for a comparable show by 1983. Because it was shrewdly marketed as a theatrical "event," the nine-hour, two-part staging of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1981), David Edgar's adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1838-1839 novel, had people lining up at the box office to shell out a record $100 per ticket. Such high prices were partly attributable to the fact that, like the rest of America, theater audiences had more disposable income by the mid 1980s. Yet the greatest single reason for escalating production budgets was skyrocketing labor costs. As ticket prices went up, theater audiences began expecting bigger and better shows for their bigger cash outlay. Producers, in turn, scurried to...
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Trends in Classical Music
During the 1970s tenor Luciano Pavarotti became a darling of the American public, the best-known and best-loved opera performer since Enrico Caruso. As the celebrity frenzy escalated in the 1980s, careful marketing made Pavarotti more popular than ever, as familiar to most Americans as any movie or pop star. He appeared on talk shows and television specials and in commercials for American Express and his album Pavarottis Greatest Hits! (1980). With his outsize charm, talent, and girth, he became the best-selling classical artist of the decade. In 1980 alone four of the top-selling classical albums were by Pavarotti. As a stage performer he found joy playing himself, and even a disastrous acting debut in the 1982 movie Yes, Giorgio! (critics cried, "No, Luciano!") could not tarnish his superstar status. His immediate successor as "tenor of the moment," Placido Domingo, seemed to follow in Pavarottis footsteps, doing advertisements for Rolex watches, recording pop albums with John Denver, releasing tango collections, and considering movie offers. Yet he was also a mesmerizing and emotional singer who was less interested in projecting his own personality than in mastering the great tenor roles, including Alfredo, Don Jose, Otello, and Hoffman. Newsweek commented that "his modesty, in a world of swollen egos, is staggering." After 1982 Domingo's recordings began...
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Trends in Country Music
During the early 1980s Nashville was dominated by popular, glossy performers such as Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, and the award-winning Alabama. The gospel quartet Oak Ridge Boys were enjoying chart success with songs such as "Elvira" (1981), while Lee Greenwood became a conservative hero with "God Bless the U.S.A.," the unofficial theme song of Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign. (Greenwood even sang the song at the Republican National Convention.) Nashville was certainly in tune with the times, but the pop-music sound and television-friendly images of these artists were anathema to country music purists, who welcomed a new breed of country-music performers who labeled themselves traditionalists. Ricky Skaggs, a former blue-grass musician who played with Emmylou Harris, led the rebellion with his 1981
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Trends in Jazz
The 1970s had been a sluggish decade for jazz, producing few "name" performers and notable only for experiments in jazz-rock "fusion." Jazz in the early 1980s offered more of the same, with pop-minded artists such as Spyro Gyra, Pat Metheny, The Crusaders, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Chuck Mangione, Angela Bofill, George Winston, David San-born, and Grover Washington Jr. dominating jazz sales and airplay. That trend changed abruptly at middecade as record buyers and jazz enthusiasts began discovering new jazz artists and returning to old favorites. Stanley Jordan and George Howard made a splash in 1985, as did Sade, who attracted a large jazz following with her cool, exotic vocals. Perhaps the most popular jazz performer of the late 1980s was Kenny G, whose albums Duotones (1987) and Silhouette (1989) were exemplars of the "fusion" sound. The most welcome trend was the resurgence on the charts in the late 1980s of jazz masters such as Ella Fitzgerald, Ornette Coleman, and Count Basie. The movie Round Midnight (1986) quickened record sales for Dexter Gordon, while the movie Bird (1988) helped make the late Charlie Parker the biggest-selling jazz artist of 1989.
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis caught the jazz world by surprise in the early 1980s with a mastery of technique...
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Trends in Underground Music
The British punk-rock movement, which peaked in the late 1970s with the success of the Sex Pistols and other fast and loud bands, fragmented and then regrouped in the early 1980s. Many of these bands specialized in postpunk gloom and doom, the angry nihilism of 1970s punk soured into resigned alienation. After the death of Sid Vicious in 1979, the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten reemerged as John Lydon with a dirge-prone ensemble called Public Image, Ltd. (PIL). Other brooding bands included Joy Division (later reformed as New Order), The Cure, Bow Wow Wow, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, and Bauhaus. Several reggae-influenced new-wave bands—including Selecter, English Beat, Madness, The Police, The Specials, UB40—continued to attract a following on both sides of the Atlantic amid a short-lived ska craze. Other punk and new-wave groups continued on into the new decade, oblivious to the gloom-and-doom movement. The Clash hit the pop charts with singles such as "Train in Vain" (1980) and "Rock the Casbah" (1982). Gang of Four released their seminal Entertainment album in 1980. Elvis Costello became increasingly successful with a series of witty and well-crafted albums. Generation X recorded the classic "Dancing with Myself" (1981) before Billy Idol departed for a solo and video career. After several early 1980s albums with The Jam, front man Paul Weiler...
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Niro, Robert De 1943- and Scorsese, Martin 1942-
Frequent collaborators with an instinctive affinity for one another's ideas, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese both grew up feeling alienated from their childhood worlds in New York City. Scorsese was born in Queens, but his family moved to Little Italy on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when he was eight years old. Poor health kept Scorsese from participating in the macho world of street fights and sports. Instead, he frequented the cinema with his father, especially the films noirs of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The boy originally intended to become a Roman Catholic priest and even entered a junior seminary, but he failed his entrance examination for a college divinity program and instead entered New York University, where he decided filmmaking was his true vocation and earned a B.S. in 1964 and an M.A. in 1966. De Niro's parents, both artists, separated when he was young, but he continued to see his father and often went to the movies with him. A frail, shy boy, De Niro felt different from other boys in Greenwich Village. Discovering his interest in acting, he attended the High...
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Haring, Keith 1958-1990
A lover of cartoons and science-fiction television shows, young Keith Haring responded to encouragement from his artistic father by creating his own vividly original stories and illustrations. He moved to New York in the late 1970s and studied abstract expressionist painting at the School of Visual Arts, where he befriended fellow artist Kenny Scharf. Frustrated with the insistence on artistic tradition at the school, Haring began to work on a different scale, often drawing on giant rolls of paper he spread on studio floors. By 1979 Haring had become captivated by subway graffiti. Its raw energy and sense of color and life pleased his growing pop sensibilities, and its visibility in a public space appealed to his desire to reach everyone with his art. Using chalk instead of the typical graffiti artist's spray paint, Haring began leaving drawings on the rectangles of black paper that covered unused subway advertising space.
In 1979 Haring, Scharf, and artist friends such as Ann Magnuson began to organize group shows at Club 57, their new East Village hangout. Their "art parties" were a mixture of performance pieces, comic skits, videos, and visual art, including Haring's graffiti images. Having touched off a vogue for "club art," Scharf and Haring became the leading proponents of...
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Jackson, Michael 1958-
SlNGER, DANCER, SONGWRITER
The Jackson Five.
From birth, Michael Jackson and his five brothers and three sisters were surrounded by music. In the Jackson home in Gary, Indiana, their mother taught them folk songs and their father played the guitar. When the five oldest boys—Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael—displayed a talent for singing, their father, Joe Jackson, encouraged them to form a group and turn professional. A series of local talent contests and their first professional gig, at a Gary nightclub in 1964, made it clear that five-year-old Michael was destined to be the group's leader. By the time he was seven, Michael Jackson was already doing the choreography for the quintet. The group began traveling, doing shows at venues such as the Apollo Theater in New York and the Regal Club in Chicago, where The Jackson Five opened for Motown acts such as The Temptations and The Miracles. Gladys Knight saw them perform at the Apollo and told Motown producer Berry Gordy about the group, and after Diana Ross performed with them at a...
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Kruger, Barbara 1945-
Barbara Kruger later admitted that she left Syracuse University after one year because she "felt like a Martian." From a middle-class neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, Kruger could not relate to her more privileged classmates. "I was the only woman on my dorm floor who hadn't had facial surgery and who knew words other than Pappagallo and Evan Picone." She transferred to Parsons School of Design in New York City and began studying photography under Diane Arbus and graphic design under Marvin Israel, art director of Harper's Bazaar. While Arbus served as Kruger's first female role model, the demanding Israel told the young artist she was "capable of anything" and encouraged her to put together a graphic-arts portfolio. In 1967 she presented her page designs to the head of the art department at Condé Nast Publications and was hired to work on the magazines Seventeen and Mademoiselle. By age twenty-two she was chief designer of Mademoiselle. During the next ten years she also worked as a teacher, a freelance photography editor, and a designer for book jackets.
Kruger was alienated by the macho posturing of the male-dominated New York art scene, describing the art hangout Max's Kansas City, circa 1969, as "a zoo of retching and male hysteria." She turned...
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SILNGER DANCER, SONGWRITER
Even as a youngster in the Detroit suburb of Bay City, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was determined to stand out from the crowd. After the death of her mother when Madonna was six years old (an event that would haunt her and help shape her life and music), her father remarried. Disliking her new stepmother and tired of taking care of her five siblings, Madonna escaped into the world of dance, studying ballet with private tutor Christopher Flynn. A dance scholarship took Madonna to Ann Arbor, where she studied at the University of Michigan. After she spent two years there, Flynn encouraged her to try her luck in New York.
With just the clothes on her back and thirty-seven dollars in cash, Madonna arrived in Manhattan in summer 1978. She relied on work as an artist's model and on various boyfriends to make ends meet and won a tryout with the third company of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Restless, Madonna soon quit to study with a choreographer who had once worked with Martha Graham's dance troupe. She also wanted to explore other interests, primarily music. A...
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Mamet, David 1947-
PLAYWRIGHT, SCREENWRITER, DIRECTOR
David Mamet later attributed his uncanny ear for naturalistic dialogue to several influences during his youth. His father, a lawyer, was something of a semanticist, and years of piano lessons gave Mamet a feeling for the rhythms and musicality of speech. His childhood, spent in a Jewish neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, was relatively uneventful until high school, when Mamet became interested in drama while working as a volunteer at a small local theater. A job at the well-known Second City comedy club in Chicago reinforced that desire, and Mamet rejected his father's suggestion that he become a lawyer. He wrote his first play, Camel, while at Goddard College in Vermont (B.A., 1969), During his junior year Mamet studied acting in New York, quitting when he realized that he had no real acting talent. In 1970 Mamet bluffed his way into a drama-teaching job in Vermont by claiming he had written a new play. After getting the job, he quickly wrote Lakeboat and staged it as a student production. Mamet continued to write short plays...
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Spielberg, Steven 1947-
MOVIE DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER
Growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Steven Spielberg took part in all the typical activities of boyhood, but he was also making movies. He used an 8-mm camera to record family events, such as birthdays and vacations, and also to film dramas (especially horror stories) starring his three younger sisters. Sheltered by his parents, Spielberg was not allowed to see many movies beyond Disney films, but the first theatrical feature he ever saw was Cecil B, DeMille's circus extravaganza The Greatest Show on Earth. In high school Spielberg shot dozens of short movies. His first full-length attempt was Firelight, a science-fiction movie focusing on a group of scientists puzzled by mysterious lights in the sky that turn out to be unfriendly aliens. By this time all Spielberg wanted was to make movies, but his poor grades kept him out of California's major film schools. He settled for California State College and tried to learn more about filmmaking by sneaking onto movie sets at major studios. While in school Spielberg shot Amblin, a twenty-two-minute short that won awards at the Venice and Atlanta film festivals. Sidney Sheinberg, head of Universal Pictures' television division, was sufficiently impressed to sign Spielberg to a seven-year contract.
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Springsteen, Bruce 1949-
SINGER, SONGWRITER, GUITARIST
From the moment he stood in his New Jersey bedroom with his first guitar in hand, thirteen-year-old Bruce Springsteen was obsessed with rock 'n' roll. Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, Springsteen grew up in a lower-class section of Freehold, near the fading beach resort of Asbury Park. While his father struggled to support his family with a series of blue-collar jobs and his mother worked as a legal secretary to help the family finances, Springsteen grew up feeling insecure and alienated, chafing at the restrictions of school and constantly at odds with his father, who did not approve of his son's musical ambitions. By listening endlessly to his favorite rock and roll songs from the 1950s, Springsteen taught himself to play the guitar and began playing with bands—first the Rogues in 1963 and by 1965 the Castile s—when he was in high school. In 1967 he met fellow rocker Steve Van Zandt, who would join his band in 1970. When his family moved to California in 1969, Springsteen stayed behind,...
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Streep, Meryl 1949-
Born Mary Louise Streep in New Jersey, Meryl Streep often felt unpopular and out of step with many of the other children in her neighborhood, especially when she began singing at age twelve and spent four subsequent years in rigorous voice training in New York. During her teen years Streep was a cheerleader, acted in high-school plays, and became homecoming queen, but she was obsessed with improving her self-described "ugly" looks. Competition for and with boys disappeared when Streep entered the all-female Vassar College (A.B., 1971) in 1967: "I remember feeling, I can have a thought. I can do anything, because everything is allowed.' Oh, it was a great relief." Streep's reading of some lines from A Streetcar Named Desire in a drama class led her instructor, Clint Atkinson, to cast her in the title role of Miss Julie at Vassar. Struck by her instinctive acting talent, Atkinson directed Streep the following year in her Off-Broadway debut. She remained reluctant to commit herself to acting, however, because of its "absurdity" as a career choice.
After a semester at Dartmouth College and work with a summer stock company in 1971, Streep entered the prestigious Yale Drama School on a three-year scholarship. By this time she had realized that acting was her one true...
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Wilson, August 1945-2005
Growing up in "The Hill," an African American slum community in Pittsburgh, August Wilson was a voracious reader who was fascinated with words—with their sound, form, and meaning. Wilson's biological father, a white man, deserted the family when Wilson was young, and he was raised by his black mother and stepfather. When his family moved to the mostly white community of Hazelwood, they became targets of racial animosity. White classmates at a Roman Catholic academy harassed Wilson for being black, and a teacher accused him of cheating on a term paper about Napoleon. By the time Wilson quit school at age fifteen, he was educating himself, soaking up the works of black writers such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright. In 1965 he bought his first typewriter and started writing poetry, recording the rhythms of black speech he had picked up in his neighborhood. Some of Wilson's early poetry, which was also influenced by Dylan Thomas, was published in small black literary journals during the early 1970s. Much of this work was political and militant, reflecting the racism Wilson had suffered growing up and his increasing involvement in the Black Nationalist movement.
During the 1960s Wilson founded Black Horizon, a black-activist theater company, with teacher and...
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People in the News
On 12 May 1987 actor-director Woody Allen testified before a Senate subcommittee to protest the computerized colorization of classic black-and-white movies.
On 23 May 1983 bandleader Count Basie and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins were both awarded the Jazz Master Awards by the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1989 movie actress Kim Basinger bought the near-bankrupt town of Braselton, Georgia, for $20 million.
On 25-28 August 1988 the Vienna Philharmonic and Boston Symphony were among the participants in a celebration of Leonard Bernstein's seventieth birthday and the forty-fifth anniversary of his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic.
On 23 January 1986 Chuck Berry, James Brown, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis were among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On 7 February more than fifteen hundred friends and fans of composer Eubie Blake honored him on his one hundredth birthday at a gala in New York City. Blake, hospitalized with pneumonia, was unable to attend and died on 12 February.
In 1988 Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California.
Yul Brynner gave his final Broadway performance in The King and I on...
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Fiction: The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer
Drama: Talley's Folly, by Lanford Wilson
Poetry: Selected Poems, by Donald Rodney Justice
Music: In Memory of a Summer Day, by David Del Tredici
Fiction: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Drama: Crimes of the Heart, by Beth Henley
Poetry: The Morning of the Poem, by James Schuyler
Music: no award given
Fiction: Rabbit Is Rich, by John Updike
Drama: A Soldier's Play, by Charles Fuller
Poetry: The Collected Poems, by Sylvia Plath
Music: Concerto for Orchestra, by Roger Sessions
Fiction: The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Drama: Night, Mother, by Marsha Norman
Poetry: Selected Poems, by Galway Kinnell
Music: Three Movements for...
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Ansel Adams, 82, photographer known for his sharply detailed landscapes, which helped to establish photography as an art form, 22 April 1984.
Kurt Adler, 82, conductor and opera director, 9 February 1988.
Alvin Ailey, 58, modern-dance choreographer, founder, and director of an integrated dance company, 1 December 1989.
Jack Albertson, 71, stage, movie, and television actor, who won a Tony and an Oscar for his roles in the stage (1964) and movie (1968) versions of The Subject Was Roses, 25 November 1981.
Ivan Albright, 86, painter, 18 November 1983.
Robert Aldrich, 65, director of movie melodramas such as Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and The Dirty Dozen (1967), 5 December 1983.
Nelson Algren, 72, author of novels of the urban underground—including The Man With the Golden Arm (1949) and Walk on the Wild Side (1956), 9 May 1981.
Harold Arlen, 81, composer of music for popular songs such as "Get Happy," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "It's Only a Paper Moon," and "Stormy Weather," 23 April 1986.
Hal Ashby, 59, director whose movies include Harold and Maude (1972), The Last Detail...
(The entire section is 4348 words.)
Leonard Bernstein, Findings (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982);
Douglas Brode, The Films of the Eighties (New York: Citadel Press, 1990);
Edward D. C. Campbell, The Celluloid South: Hollywood and the Southern Myth (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981);
Francis Davis, In the Moment: Jazz in the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986);
David Evans, Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982);
Jonathan Fineburg, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being (New York: Abrams, 1995);
Peter Frank and Michael McKenzie, New, Used & Improved: Art for the '80s (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987);
Deborah R. Geis, Postmodern Theatric(k)s: Monologue in Contemporary American Drama (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993);
Gary Giddins, Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation in the '80s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986);
Giddins, Riding on a Blue Note: Jazz and American Pop (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981);
Tony Godfrey, The New Image: Painting in the 1980s (Oxford: Phaidon, 1986);
(The entire section is 468 words.)
Important Events in the Arts, 1980–1989
- More than 1.5 million people tour a retrospective exhibit of one thousand works by Pablo Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
- President Jimmy Carter cancels a Washington exhibit of works from the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
- Mikhail Baryshnikov becomes director of the American Ballet Theater.
- The Metropolitan Opera receives a $5 million grant from Texaco.
- On March 29, the New York Metropolitan Opera production of
with Placido Domingo and Renata Scotto, is broadcast via satellite to twenty countries.
- On April 13,
the longest running show on Broadway to date, closes after 3,388 performances.
- On September 6, the Whitney Museum buys Jasper Johns's
for $1 million, the highest price yet paid for a work by a living artist.
- On December 8, Former Beatle John Lennon is killed outside his apartment building in New York City by Mark David Chapman.
- Airplane!, directed by Jim Abrahams and David Zucker and starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty; Altered States, directed by Ken...
(The entire section is 10206 words.)