Maybe it's salesmanship or simply his connections in academia led to his critical acclaim. Perhaps his work in the early 70s was considered anti-capitalist and anti-establishment enough to garner the attention of the left leaning radicals that would assume positions of power in university and museum art departments in the 80s.
That was my take on it too Jim. Without his explanation of his agenda, his 70s work looks like nicely done pictures of a growing suburbia. Nothing special about it IMO.