Apr 12, 2009

New Museum - Younger than Jesus

AIDS-3D. OMG Obelisk, 2007.

I did a very quick tour of YTJ at the New Museum this weekend. I really enjoyed much of the art. Ryan Trecartin's piece gave me a huge smile. I am excited this is showing near me. I plan to go back and may find time to post more.

However something Holland Cotter said in the NYTimes review resonated with me:

“Younger Than Jesus” doesn’t have a comparable sense of unity, texture or lift. It is, despite its promise of freshness, business as usual. Its strengths are individual and episodic, with too much work, particularly photography, making too little impact. But my point is that beyond quibbles about choices of individual works, it raises the question of whether any mainstream museum show designed to be a running update exclusively on the work of young artists can rise above being a preapproved market survey. Removed from a larger generational context, can such a survey ever become a story, part of a larger history? (The same question applies to museum exhibitions that leave young artists out of the picture.) I’m asking. It’s a complicated subject. I don’t know the answer.

I wonder the same thing.

If the YTJ show has a story, it is one of pluralism. The curators have done everything they can to be inclusive - consulting 150 "experts" facebook-style, listed in the published materials (I applaud this enormous effort); publishing a directory of 500 artists (also a great thing); including every form of art, from performance, video, sculpture, painting, photography and computer software; bringing in art from dozens of countries... all this demonstrates how connected everything is, how every attitude, image, form, or expression is equally valid. Every position is represented. Pluralism reigns supreme.

Yet as soon as the curators decide to divide artists into two classes based on a gambit like "younger than Jesus", they expose how shallow pluralism is in practice. The focus on the young/hot market segment does little to increase the overall pluralism in art, rather, as Holland Cotter remarks, it is business as usual. This is, as Hal Foster once said, "the false pluralism of the posthistorical museum, market and academy in which anything goes (as long as accepted forms predominate)." In the book Art Power, Boris Groy points out that pluralism is misguided, since any attempt at pluralism fails as soon as the curator has to make a choice who to exclude: "the alleged pluralism of modern and contemporary art makes any discourse on it ultimately futile and frustrating. This fact alone is reason enough to put the dogma of pluralism in question."

Of course, I may be getting this all wrong. I hold out hope that the curators are fully aware of this, and that if I spend more time in the show I will discover moments of irony that show how generational labels often collapse (perhaps they included an artist who is only fifteen, or one in their nineties?).

No comments: