What was going on in these galleries? Well, the underground art scene. Underground was the catch all phrase for post punk, punk, electro, midnight movies, performance art, installations, and the 1980's version of happenings (without the hippie connotations).
The art of the 80's is now old enough that notoriously unhurried art historians are beginning to examine the potential of the 1980's as a subject. Helen Molesworth's This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics opens a week from now at the ICA and is a flagship for scholarship into the art of the 80s. 2010's Mark Morrisroe: From This Moment On (it traveled to New York's Artists Space in 2011) is another example with the added bonus of being about an artist who was born and educated in MA.
Leah Triplett's essay in this month's journal is an exploration of Boston and Morrisroe, and should be an excellent companion to the ICA's show, as it examines an additional history that artists everywhere should learn. The story is that these artists never cared if they had a gallery or an audience and they kept making it happen in self-produced galleries and exhibitions until they had an audience. They founded their careers in Boston, and it served them well. Sure they made mistakes and there is a lot to this story that I'm glossing over, but it's a rewarding history to learn.