"Embracing the Present: The UBS Paine Webber Art Collection," largely the effort of collector Donald Marron, chairman of UBS America, consists of works from one of the foremost collections of contemporary art in the United States. Good art offers an indelible reflection of its times, Marron says. It "reflects contemporary trends in society, and truly outstanding works might even suggest the future. We have always sought to acquire the most significant works by artists who best represent our times."
Many pieces express a fascination with the media. Warhol, perhaps best-known for his off-the-cuff remark that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, will ironically probably be remembered for generations for his artwork. Known for his critique of American consumerism, Warhol uses a still from the 1931 film The Public Enemy, showing James Cagney, suggesting the dark appeal of the anti-hero in American culture. Depicting the bad guy in a positive light, once considered taboo, is flaunted in Warhol's Cagney, where the actor represents an iconic presence of the lovable bad guy.
Sherman's series of staged photographs from the 1970s seems to send a message that the media victimizes its subjects. Sherman's characters are dressed up to represent actresses from the 1940s and 1950s looking frightened and confused. It's interesting that in another series, she continues with the theme of woman as victim of the media. In Untitled #96 (1981), the artist herself plays the part of a young girl clutching an ad ripped from a newspaper. Looking through any of today's fashion magazines, one can still find the demure, scared woman-child, modeling underwear.
Lorna Simpson's Untitled (1992) uses language and photography to convey the pressure on African-American women trying to conform to the standards of a white male society. The fragility of nature is another of the exhibit's prominent themes, particularly with Tony Cragg's Grey Moon (1985), which reflects on a society geared toward consumption. In a biting comment about the treatment of nature, Ashley Bickerton's Catalog: Terra Firma Nineteen Hundred Eighty Nine #2 shows nature as just another packaged product.