Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Art: The New New Museum

The new New Museum opened last weekend with 30 consecutive hours open free to the public (supposedly thanks to Target, which has been hip-ifiying itself by sponsoring all kinds of contemporary art nonsense (e.g. MoMA Free Friday Nights), who took over the New Museum's top floor and filled it with shittily inoffensive techno-cheer and assorted red and white candies). Obliged to go (disclosure: I have a friend who works at the New Museum, and additionally applied for an editing position there, for which I was clearly not hired and, furthermore, not even called for an interview, which turns out to be just as well given what is here forthcoming), a friend (a different friend than the friend who works there, but who is also friends with the friend who works there) and I got tickets for half-past midnight, and decided we would meet there (she had the tickets). I didn't know the address, and when text messaging Google was given the address of the old New Museum. At somewhat of a loss, I decided to wander around a bit (I knew the general location, or so I thought) until I found it; afterall, I was early, and there were flocks of people pouring in and out of all the Lower East Side bars.

My friend finally called and said that she was on her way, and gave me the address; I had been a whole neighborhood off (it's in SoHo, not the LES), and had to walk (did I mention it was below freezing that night?) ever farther back than where I had come from. When I finally got indoors, all of my skin was burning and tingling from the temperature change. Now I know how a snow cone feels when its subjected to the inside of your hot, wet mouth. That was probably the most edifying experience of the evening. To be fair, the new building is gorgeous, particularly from the outside; it looks like a stack of effervescent white boxes, each precariously settled onto a larger one beneath it. Inside, the effect is less dramatic; the galleries number only one per floor: white cubes broken by the off-center stairwell and elevator bank. It looks like this:

This leaves ample room for sculptural/installation art in a main gallery space, and some narrow corridors where other, quieter pieces can be snuck in. The ceilings are exceptionally high and airy, and lined with strips of skylights (which, I've heard, produce a beautiful colored affect during the daytime). An over-touted narrow stairwell links the third and fourth floors; I haven't anything against it, but it isn't what they say it is. The floors, poured concrete, don't touch the walls; there is an half-inch gap between the two, a tender minimalist touch that makes the space much more interesting than the art it houses, at least right now.

And so, onto the art. The current show is called Unmonumental, and oh, boy, is it. I suppose the curators were quite clever in mounting a show that aims to be forgettable, because then, when the show is panned, they can defend themselves by reminding their critics that they've achieved exactly their intention. I won't go so far as to say that it was all "trash" (which I've seen it called on various other blogs), but I will say that the general youth of the artists is apparent, as well as a curatorial distrust of what might traditionally be considered "aesthetically pleasing" (although, considering the altered aesthetic preferences brought about by the last 100 years of art, many connossieurs might find this work quite aesthetically pleasing). As I rack my brain trying to remember a piece that I like, I recall there was something of a riff off of Duchamp's Large Glass (The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even), from Nate Lowman but, like many (but not all!) post-modernist riffs, it's empty of the original's aura. Tucked into one of those quiet little corners I mentioned is a low wooden tabletop (more a cipher for a tabletop; even if you sat on the floor a la Japan, it would still be too low) from Carol Bove, decorated (forgive me, I could say "marked," but I think "decorated" is more precise) by bits of driftwood, a slightly weathered black and white photograph in the style of Man Ray, another other little odds and ends (the only thing missing an Imogen Cunningham coffee table book), which, in the absence of any instructive wall text, I couldn't help but read as a parody of a Pacific Northwestern intellectual elitist's home (a professor and his wife (an "artist" or a "poetess") in their fifties, childless). The best-looking piece by far is a kind of dangling sculpture: a hanging cluster of netted buoys in weathered reds and oranges and yellows and greens, recalling (this time, far surpassing) Eva Hesse's untitled testicular hanging nets (grouped in threes and fives instead of twos, but fooling no one nevertheless). Unfortunately, I have no picture of the buoys for you, and I don't have the artist's name either. I will therefore have to go back, armed with a (probably illegal) camera.

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