The New Museum, a Manhattan building that looks like six stacked metal cubes with a rainbow-colored “Hell, Yes!” emblazoned on the second story, is currently home to the work of 50 artists born no earlier than 1976 and hailing from 25 different countries. The exhibition, called “The Generational: Younger than Jesus,” will continue until June 14 and aims to “provide the general public with a first in-depth look at how the next generation conceives of our world.” The multimedia showcase is a must-see for all those who came of age during the turn of the 21st century and finds themselves wandering around Nolita this spring.
The exhibition begins with a “Live Archive Timeline” on the fifth floor that sets the tone for viewing the galleries of the floors beneath. Spanning an entire wall, the timeline displays the years 1976-2009 in blurbs about definitive world events typed on multi-colored printer paper. Skimming over the past 33 years, long and short term memories are conjured as you find familiar names and phrases within the competing neon squares: Iran-Contra Affair, Monica Lewinsky, the Challenger, Johnny Carson, 9/11, Dolly the sheep, Saddam Hussein, Napster, Reaganomics, Miracle on the Hudson, U2, reality television, AIDS, Playstation, Kurt Cobain, the Cold War and the Internet. While the array of bright colors and sheer size of the display are visually arresting, gazers get the sense that this log is somehow impermanent. This is intended—the timeline is a work in progress as blurbs are visitor-generated; a plastic submission box nearby encourages individual submissions and modifications. As the viewer reads blurbs like “Sept. 6, 1985: Michael Jackson purchases the publishing rights of most of the Beatles’ music for $47 million,” digitized light and familiar old melodies sneak out from a sequestered corner of the floor. They are the sounds and images of the Olympics, Super Mario Brothers, Guns N’ Roses, Saved by the Bell, Tetris, Pink Floyd, Beverly Hills 90210, a Bruce Springsteen concert, and so on.
According to New Museum Communications Director Gabriel Einsohn, several of YTJ’s works seem to be media favorites. Among the most buzzed-about installments are Chu Yun’s (China, b. 1977) provocative “human sculptures” of sleeping women and Ryan Trecartin’s (USA, b. 1981) videos. It’s easy to see why. Yun’s “piece” changes every day. Essentially, a female volunteer between the age of 18 and 40 and with valid health insurance shows up to the New Museum and ingests a sleeping pill half an hour before the gallery opens. Her drawn out “performance” ideally lasts till closing, as onlookers watch her passed out within some comfy-looking white bed sheets blurring the line between sculpture and performance simply by sleeping. As the exhibition’s extensive 500+ page catalogue points out, this reconfiguration of performance drama is indicative of a “generation of artists who seem to be fascinated by the search for new forms of distribution and packaging.”
After viewing Trecartin’s work, it comes as no surprise that his piece is receiving much of the media’s attention; his two-room video/sculpture/cartoon installment is easily the most disturbing on display. Viewers make their way through two connected rooms littered with luggage, lamps, furniture, sculptures, clocks and other household items placed haphazardly about the space. The walls are covered in mirrors. Each room has a flat screen TV playing two short movies entitled “Re’Search Wait’S” and “K-Corea Inc.K,” which feature freakish, hyper, cartoonish people, usually transvestites, talking rapidly in high-pitched voices and not making much sense. As curatorial materials explain, the actors “communicate in a new language created from a mash-up of contemporary argot, technical terms, and abbreviations, with words tumbling forth from every mouth at what seem like breakneck speed.” They are depicting a “hysterical realism”; some are covered in paint and some resemble tweens while others look like they’re trying to be hip-hop stars. Through the films, Trecartin aims to show “a disturbed mirror image of ourselves” and somewhat humorously, criticize the “identity tourism” that new social media like YouTube and networking sites allow us to engage in.
Not far from Trecartin’s weird world is my favorite piece of the exhibition, OMG Obelisk by AIDS-3D, a collective consisting of Daniel Keller, (b.1986, USA) and Nick Kosmas (b.1985, USA). A simple black totem-like structure with a vertical “OMG” in neon blue lights at the top, the piece is both humorous and foreboding. The thin black torches emanating real fire that surround the totem pole give it a primitive feel; a modernized version of an ancient cave scene. According to curatorial materials, the work of AIDS-3D is a flippant engagement “with the unmet promises of 20th century: religious enlightenment, sexual liberation, technological utopianism and artistic freedom.” OMG Obelisk seems to reject the idea of technological utopianism through the humor that’s created from taking such a trite, tech-generated phrase and placing it in an all-important, religious context. They are also saying something about God or the changing human attitude about God here: In ancient times, humans built monuments and obelisks to pay homage to God. Today we drop “OMG” without thinking twice.
Moreover, many of the exhibition pieces explore family matters—alternative family units, collectives and intergenerational tensions. The most intriguing piece to focus on this theme is a vast array of simple sketchpad drawings submitted by Kate?ina Šedá (Czech Republic, b. 1977), whose work concerns familial bonds and how generations interact. The sketches were actually drawn by Šedá’s grandmother from 2005-2007, the last two years of her life. As her grandmother lost her memory and fell into a total state of apathy, Šedá forced her to make simple Sharpie marker drawings of all the items she could recall from her 30+ years as the manager of a home supplies store. The work is intriguing because it is a product of both Šedá’s instructions and her grandmother’s hand. Without Šedá’s mind, the work could not exist and without her grandmother’s participation, the work would lose it’s meaning entirely. Not only did creating the work exemplify the bond between them, but Šedá essentially shaped her incapacitated grandmother’s reality through this project.
The work of Šedá, Keller, Kosmas, Trecartin, Yun and the other artists were chosen over the short span of a year by 150 art experts and critics working across borders to curate a thorough artistic survey of an era through the eyes of a single generation. The result is memorable, thought-provoking experience well worth the $12 admission charge.