An edgy exhibit at New York City’s New Museum truly has a realistic idea of what’s going on in contemporary art and design today — as they make a statement about the future — featuring compelling evidence as to how technology like 3D printing gives many artists and designers new ways to experiment as well as manufacture their own designs for prototyping and selling.
The artists being featured are early in their artistic careers, and will have their work displayed in the exhibit, titled 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience. Spanning the globe with artists from 25 countries, 51 young creators have work in the show, including Josh Kline, Juliana Huxtable, and Oliver Laric, whom we have covered previously regarding a show he did with 3D Lincoln Scans at the Usher Gallery.
“Many of the works in the show look really closely at our present moment, a time when culture has become more porous and encompassing,” explained New Museum Curator Lauren Cornell, who is co-curating the exhibit with artist Ryan Trecartin. “The metaphor that Ryan [Trecartin] and I use is, ‘Surrounded.’”
While the show has a comprehensive mix of political and social statement, 3D printing certainly made its presence known as a new and viable medium, and was centered especially in Frank Benson’s Juliana. Benson, a New Yorker himself, chose to make a stunning statement with his entirely 3D printed piece, which is the third in a series of nude sculptures. Juliana is a striking statement with Benson’s use of 3D printing coupled with the complete nudity of transgender artist Juliana Huxtable — who is also featured in the show as an artist, with her self-portraits in the exhibit.
Full-sized, iridescent, and pushing boundaries with both technology and sexuality, the piece was originally not planned as a nude, but Benson wrote and asked her tentatively if she would consider allowing him to portray her like so.
“I was nervous of what she might think of that, so I sent her this intense email full of historical references,” said Benson.
Benson made sure to convey Huxtable’s personality, even in the buff, paying special attention to her braids and makeup.
“I want the sculpture to exist as a completely finished entity inside the computer,” Benson says. “The 3D model is its ultimate version and the print is the real-world manifestation of it.”
3D printing features extensively in the exhibit, with a mind-blowing display of creativity and mastery of various mediums, as well as technology. These artists are not just painters or sculptors, but true craftsmen and artisans with technical skill. They are building artworks, installations, and entire rooms of mixed media impressions and concepts.
Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s work, Phantom, also integrated the Oculus Rift into his work as viewers entered a virtual reality 3D forest. Casey Jane Ellison made a 3D printed USB containing her stand-up comedy routine, which has with a surreal slant. Artist Josh Kline made use of 3D printing for props in a dramatic installation featuring a room filled with riot police bearing Teletubby faces.
Aleksandra Domanović mixed up media to use 3D printing for the Belgrade Hands, robotic hands, in her installation, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin). Again bordering on surrealism and horror, the design is from robotic prostheses straight out of the movie Demon Seed.
“Technology has changed all of our lives so dramatically, and really changed how art is being made, too,” said New Museum Director Lisa Phillips.
Tuesday night, amid a sea of black beanies that constituted the crowd at the opening of the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, one cotton candy–color fur bomber jacket stuck out like a fabulous sore thumb. Its oversize chrome buttons, shaped like the letter “J,” stood for Juicy Couture, but they also announced the woman who was wearing the piece—the photographer, painter, poet, DJ, and downtown sensation Juliana Huxtable.
Huxtable is by turns the subject and author of five separate works installed at the second-floor galleries of this year’s Triennial, “Surround Audience,” which was collaboratively curated by Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin. Four inkjet prints by Huxtable herself (two poems and two self-portraits from her lyrically titled series, “Universal Crop Tops For All The Self Canonized Saints of Becoming”) hang in front of a new 3-D Frank Benson sculpture for which Huxtable is the model. (It’s called Juliana.) Since the show opened Wednesday, both Juliana and Juliana have become Insta-sensations, hinting that we might see as much of them on social media this spring as we saw of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety last year. The New Museum also chose one of Huxtable’s self-portraits, Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm), as the Triennial’s holding image on the museum homepage. To put this in Hollywood terms, an analogy not unbefitting today’s art world: If “Surround Audience” were a film, Juliana Huxtable would be its star.
Photo: Benoit Pailley; Courtesy of The New Museum, New York
Born to a Baptist family in what she describes as a “conservative Bible Belt town in Texas,” Huxtable has been drawing, collaging, and painting since a young age but only began a career in art after graduating from Bard in 2010. “I’ve always kept a notebook,” Huxtable says, “but it was never a cultivated practice in the way that people studying studio art develop.” Brought up as a boy named Julian (Huxtable has transitioned in adulthood), she drew pictures that “were always high-drama, high-fantasy images of idealized women—like angels flying through the air,” she explains. “Now, I’m becoming those women.”Operating out of a “diaristic impulse,” Huxtable’s work uses her own life experience as a point of departure. Her best known pieces, including the two self-portraits in the Triennial, depict Huxtable as a character derived from imagery of the Nuwaubian Nation. (Nuwaubianism, which Huxtable describes as “technically a cult,” was a religious organization inspired by Islam, Ancient Egypt, and extraterrestrial theories. Huxtable has no affiliations with the group.) “From the standpoint of mythology,” Huxtable explains, “I think it’s brilliant. It was like the Animorphs before there were Animorphs.” Painting herself in toxic shades of sage green and violet, Huxtable makes photographs that blend the visual languages of comic books and hip-hop in a way that looks like an Internet meme made by aliens.
Huxtable describes her pieces as “self-imaginings” and, it seems clear, views her art in the first person. “My works are avatars for the constantly growing list of references in my head,” Huxtable explains. “Some of them are political ideas, some of them are aesthetic ideas, but to me the clearest way I can translate them is through portraiture and through text.”
Frank Benson saw a photograph of Huxtable’s first Nuwaubian persona two years ago and asked her to model for him around that time. “Actually, that is how my body looked about a year and a half ago, when I got 3-D-scanned,” Huxtable says, describing Juliana. “The proportions of my body have changed at a rapid pace. Frank’s sculpture is a sort of pastiche of me at different points.”
It would have been hard for Huxtable to imagine this moment four years ago. In 2011, she was working as a legal assistant for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and keeping up a number of side hustles—hosting parties, baking and selling marijuana edibles, and DJing—to make ends meet. Most tellingly, she was part of the catering staff for the New Museum’s 2011 Spring Gala honoring Gilbert & George. These days, Huxtable still models (for DKNY last year and Eckhaus Latta this past season) and DJs—“I don’t see that as unrelated [to my art]”—but now also fields offers from dealers and collectors, in whom she doesn’t seem to have much interest. “Being in this show,” Huxtable says of the Triennial, “I never thought in a million years it would happen. It doesn’t have any sense of finality, but it definitely feels like a big step.”
Trans Artist Juliana Huxtable Is Owning the New Museum Triennial
House of Ladosha’s transgender beauty gets all the attention at the New Museum
Photographer, painter, poet, DJ, and OUT100 honoree Juliana Huxtable has created a series of artworks currently on view at the New Museum’s Triennial. The 27-year-old artist, who transitioned into a woman in adulthood, is in turn the author and subject of five pieces displayed on the second floor of the museum.
The centerpiece of the installation is a 3D sculpture by Frank Benson entitled Juliana. It represents Huxtable nude, revealing her breasts and penis.
Huxtable, who’s been vocal on her blog about the discrimination she’s faced as a trans woman, was also recently featured in Vogue and the Wall Street Journal.
Frank Benson saw a photograph of Huxtable two years ago and asked her to model for him around that time. “Actually, that is how my body looked about a year and a half ago, when I got 3D-scanned,” Huxtable told Vogue. “The proportions of my body have changed at a rapid pace. Frank’s sculpture is a sort of pastiche of me at different points.”
In addition, the New Museum features one of Huxtable’s photographs, Untitled, on its website home page.
New Museum Triennial, on view through May 24, 2015. NewMuseum.org
The New Museum’s Triennial Forecasts a Bleak Future
By Sehba Mohammad on February 25, 2015
Considering the New Museum’s technical savvy, one would expect its third triennial exhibition, Surround Audience, featuring post-internet, emerging artists tapped into global culture, to be rife with emoji art, glitchy videos of internet porn, and at least some of the 2014 Whitney biennial’s shock tactics. Especially since the triennial’s co-curator Ryan Trecartin is an artist known for his campy, over the top artworks which have been likened to Facebook having a nightmare. Instead the five floor exhibition, featuring 51 artists from 25 countries , is understated and idea driven, consisting of muted works with dark undertones.
Most of the works on view traverse perceptions of the body in today’s technologically saturated, globalized world.
Middle Eastern artist Sophia Al-Maria’s three channel video installation Sisters (2014), shows ghostly repressed bodies freeing themselves through dance. Paranoia about militarism and regimes of control, most apparent in Josh Kline’s installation Freedom 2015, including sculptures of Teletubbies dressed as policemen, credit card trees, and a computer generation of Obama, are also prevalent.
The future, however, is the triennial’s most dominant feature. A considerable number of the show’s sculptural installations, as well as the abstract digital prints and Middle Eastern videos works that intersperse them, are portents of what could be. Their subjects vacillate from dystopian and suspicious to utopian and hopeful, presenting various imminent realities in the guise of art. Here, then, are the most futuristic works from the New Museum triennial.
Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom, 2015
Tucked away in the second floor is Catalan artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom, 2015. From afar, the virtual installation seems simple: an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset dangles unassumingly in the middle of two concentric circles. Once you put on the headset things get exciting. The artist used 3D laser-scanning software to map a lush spot in Brazil’s endangered Mata Atlântica rainforest. The work allows viewers to explore the forest as if they are walking through it. As you move around, look up and down; different elements of the indigenous Brazilian landscape reveal themselves, albeit a grainy, colorless, digitized version of the forest. The artist’s pervasive viewing experience highlights the idea that realityis dependent on people’sperspectives. It also makes one ponder on the future of nature and how new ways of seeing and experiencing the world will effect our reality.
Three grey bunkers, sealed by screens, protrude from the gallery wall. Rubber gloves protrude in and outside a clear vestibule which resembles incubators for quarantining hazardous bodies. The bunkers are filled with familiar domestic objects: toilet rolls and pillows; making them inviting, alarming, and unbearably intriguing. Created by Hong Kong-based artist’s Nadim Abbas the works have an element of post-apocalyptic Hollywood to them, touching upon popular dystopian themes of biological warfare and highly contagious diseases. They are also a personal comment on modern day intimacy.
Juliana Huxtable’s Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm), 2015
Perhaps the most colorful works on display are inkjet self portraits by artist, DJ, and performer Juliana Huxtable or the “cyborg, cunt, priestess, witch, Nuwaubian princess,” as she calls herself. The prints belong to the artist’s series “Universal Crop Tops for all the Self Canonized Saints of Becoming,” depicting the queer, former legal assistant in guises based on black mythology. Surrounded by surreal landscapes with fantastical color palettes, she effectively mixes club kid aesthetics with deeper poetic insights. Her works are precursors of an emerging identity in which categories such as gender, race, sexuality, and age are fluid and open.
Ed Atkins’ Happy Birthday!!, 2014
This eerie six minute video centers around a melancholy computer-generated avatar with 2016, and other dates, tattooed to his forehead. He utters mysterious numerical phrases and his body continuously degenerates. The work is a meditative piece on our increased immersion with life-like digital images and how this alters what we know of ourselves and the material world. It reminds us to take note before it is too late; that realistic HD images no matter how exact, don’t really exist.
Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel (2014-15)
The French video artist, previously preoccupied with incorporating human traits such as confusion and humor into machines, created an advertising campaign for a basic human emotion instead of a product, an act that seems logical in our increasingly commercialized world. In collaboration with agency Droga5, the artist created a a new symbol for empathy—EƎ, two E’s facing each other. A sculpture of the symbol, meant to be a generational update on the peace sign, is submerged in a fish tank with live coral growing on it, an attempt to inject life into the work. Catala’s new project has an accompanying website with more details
Six Pieces That Stuck Out at the New Museum’s Triennial
The primary criticism towards the New Museum’s Triennial is that it it, quite simply, A LOT to take in at once. This criticism is fair, but it also might be missing the point. As I skulked around the opening last night, snapping photos on my sad point and shoot camera, I was overwhelmed with sensory and hyper aware of the setting. Trying to navigate through swarms of people, from young New School students to the elder statesmen of the art world, was like trying to escape from a straight jacket. The venue was packed, and there were hundreds of good looking artsy types adorned in fashionable clothing of one style or another that were clearly feeling the density of the production as well. Attendees were more often found schmoozing and boozing then taking in any single piece for any length of time. It was a little uncomfortable, a little unnerving, and perhaps that was the entire point.
“Surround Audience” was aimed towards exploring the way we live in this mega-connected and technological world. And in this world, we are overwhelmed constantly. Even if we wanted to unplug, most of our jobs wouldn’t let us. It’s hard to appreciate beauty when you are plugged into the Matrix. The exhibit explores that notion teetering on sensory chaos. That being said, there were some pieces that sucked me right out of the pandemonium. Curators Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin could certainly have kept the exhibit tighter; showing 51 artists at once is no easy accomplishment. But these six pieces took me out of the chaos; for a moment I could look closely and appreciate.
Frank Benson “ Juliana”
Judging from some of the press, it appears that the Virginia-based artist Frank Benson’s “Juliana” is a crowd favorite at the Triennial and with good reason: the sculpture of Benson’s friend, transgendered artist Juliana Huxtable, is beautifully rendered and clearly made in loving homage. Perched in the center fold of the museum’s second floor, the image cuts through the crowd. It’s dazzlingly life-like. Those that don’t know the subject of the piece before looking at it find themselves shocked when they look up and down the beautiful female form only to find a penis between the object’s legs. The piece forces you to recognize the world’s changing standards of beauty.
Josh Kline, “Freedom”
Philadelphia’s Josh Kline thinks about the way humanity has been commodified and controlled through various means of technological surveillance, and judging from his piece at the Triennial, he has a lot of fun doing it. “Freedom” consists of sculpted and life-like stormtrooper-looking police each equipped with their own screens attached to their bellies. Almost as if the guards are protecting him while watching the audience, a screen projection of an Obama lookalike giving a speech plays in the background. Standing from the corner of the room, it looked as if the museum attendees were blended into a crowd with the cops.
Antoine Cala “Distant Feel”
French artist Antoine Cala examines the gadgets of the information age and illuminates their decay, darkness, and essentially, their life. In his piece, “Distant Feel,” he examines the issues he’s interested in with humor, with an object that resembles a fish tank. Of course, there are no fish. But looking at the piece you get the sense that life exists within the space. It’s bright neon colors highlight the ugliness and rotten appeal of the mold growing within the tank. I’m always a sucker for neon.
Aleksandra Domanović, “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)
Conceptually, I couldn’t quite grasp the statement being made in Yugolsavian artist Aleksandra Domanović’s, “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), but I loved looking at it and walking through it. Apparently, she was making a statement on the history of the Internet in her country and celebrating the women who helped make it happen. The installation, with prosthetic limbs derived from the model of the Belgrade Hand (the first robotic hand) and gorgeous rafters that must be walked through to get to them, takes on a life of its own.
Avery K. Singer, “Untitled”
Benjamin Sutton is one of my favorite art critics these days, but his statements about New York’s own Avery K. Singer and her piece, “Untitled,” couldn’t be more unfounded in my opinion. How could something so beautiful only be meant to take up wall space? The fact that her monochrome paintings stuck out to me more so than the larger-scale installations speaks to the piece’s striking beauty. Singer is a painter that uses technology as a tool rather than a medium: she uses Google SketchUp and projects images onto a canvas and then uses spray paint to bring the piece to life. The results are gorgeous; shadowy figures floating in an infinite space.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby “And We Begin to Let Go”
Nigerian painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s “Thread” strikes personal for me. For one, I love to see an artist just show his/her talents for painting and collage. I still believe that few objects can be more evocative than a gorgeous painting. In this painting, we see Crosby kissing her American husband’s back in bed. The husband is painted realistically, while she is made up of a collage of Nigerian imagery. Being in a relationship with a woman of a different cultural background myself, I certainly empathize with the sentiments at hand. Through the act of kissing, Crosby imparts her husband with her knowledge, experience and identity. Together, their two cultures form a new identity. A new way of viewing the world. Bi-cultural couples are not a new idea, but are not often explored enough contextually. There is no better way to spread culture than through the act of intimacy and love.
Some inventions are mastered instantly. The earliest adapters of oil paint, including Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, are still among the best who ever lived. After the invention of the electric guitar, early recordings confirm that Les Paul, T-Bone Walker, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (followed soon thereafter by Jimi Hendrix) were immediate maestros, and some say the novel has never gotten better than Don Quixote. But the internet is not like these inventions or genres. We are 25 years in and we still have no van Eyck, van der Weyden, Hendrix, or Cervantes. In part, that’s because nothing endures online; commerce and novelty topple all idols (even new ones); and today’s links are already decaying and may be useless in the near future. But we have no new masters also because digital technology is more than an invention, tool, or genre. It is a whole new landscape, a new biology, one that is changing us as much as we are changing it — and could one day live on the moon or inside us. Either way, we are digital’s bitches.
And have been for a while. Since everything changes but the avant-garde, art exhibitions about digital technology date back to at least 1968, and London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts’ “Cybernetic Serendipity” examination of “computer art.“Most such shows are spectacles of interactive keyboards, whiz-bang effects, listening stations, impossible-to-navigate websites that do little more than give visitors who touch them colds, and wearable helmets that project distorted cyberscapes. Now comes the New Museum’s generously plentiful, frustrating but worthy-of-attention 2015 triennial, “Surround Audience.” This is the museum’s third triennial, each of which is devoted to “early-career artists” and is meant to be “predictive, rather than retrospective.” This year’s building-filling extravaganza isdevoted to current art by newer artists who examine “the social and psychological effects of digital technology.” The exhibition has been adroitly co-curated by the New Museum’s Lauren Cornell, who made me happy when she said “media lounges have failed,” and happier still when she said she loathes “techno gimmicks.” Her co-curator is one of the best artists of his generation, 34-year-old Ryan Trecartin, someone who has narrowed the space between objects, images, digital manipulation, cultural narrative, millions of colors, and layers of sound to a supercharged splinter.
“Surround Audience” purports to examine “a world in which the effects of technology … have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world … visual metaphors for the self and subjecthood.” Before you bristle — Excuse me, all art does this — not only are there no keyboards, workstations, or websites here, and only one helmet (Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s fantastically alluring depiction of layered linear space), there are, thankfully, no darkened rooms with portentous videos that make you wonder if curators are human beings aware that they’re spending fortunes while abusing the curiosity, patience, and humanity of their audience. That’s a big leap for the art world. These curators understand, finally, that there’s no such thing as “digital art” (certainly no variety that could be defined by the machines it’s made of and through), only art that might be inscribed with its ethos. And while the show includes a tad too much arty-adolescent apocalyptic dystopianism, there’s, happily, no annoying, New Age–y, utopian-Zeitgeist babble.
More important, it is full of artists thinking past objects of the digital era and addressing the much weirder experience of actually living in it and recognizing, all the while, that this landscape is already authored by and is us anyway, that there’s little distinction anymore between inside and outside, and that engaging with technologies doesn’t have to involve a computer, mouse, or iPhone. Even William Gibson, the man who invented the term, recently wrote, “Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere … Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical.”
I knew only a small percentage of the 51 artists and artist-collectives on hand, which is refreshing when many exhibitions look like they’ve been concocted in the curator-industrial complex, where all shows are made to look similar. Cornell and Trecartin abandon the lockstep curatorial love of preapproved, postconceptual academic practice, meaning installations with a little text, possibly photography, video, a sound file, booklets, and/or found objects displayed haphazardly or carefully in a vitrine or on a shelf. (This default international curatorial style not only marred the 2012 triennial, it infects most museum shows of contemporary art.) In many of the artists they’ve chosen to highlight, we glimpse a generation coming to terms notjust with technologies that they’ve been immersed in since childhood, but with what it means to try to create change from within a system only to see that system closed back down again. These are artists comfortable with reconfiguring information and refusing refuge in vaunted Romantic terms like timelessness or cynicism.
Take Josh Kline’s epic third-floor installation, which includes replicated elements of Zucotti Park, benches, Teletubbies riot police standing guard, and communication towers, which suggest that all of this is being monitored and broadcast at all times. The work is titled Freedom and contains one of the most far-reaching videos I’ve seen in some time — a digitally manipulated President Obama delivering his first 2009 inaugural address, as reimagined by Kline and former Obama administration speechwriter David Meadvin. In this version, the words heard are those dreamt of by tens of millions of people for the two years leading up to Obama’s 2008 election, and we see Obama sharply taking aim at those who deny global climate change and calling for immediate action, pointedly holding corporations responsible for the financial collapse, calling out cynics and pundits who profit from fearmongering, and challenging bigots, homophobes, racists, and sexists. On the night of Obama’s 2008 election, thinking about how the politics of “hope and change” might be gutted by governmental dysfunction and pragmatism, I wrote on my Facebook, “A generation must now learn to be disappointed in new ways.” That did not happen.
After this vertex, don’t miss Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who enlisted Cairo sheikhs to deliver real sermons about noise pollution; it’s fantastic to listen to the religious tenets of the Koran used to understand adverse effects of noise. (A sub-theme of the show is how the organism of the internet landscape allows old systems and filters to be adapted.) Also excellent are Lena Henke’s large, three-dimensional JPEGs, which make you grasp how artists are using old tools to dig deeper into new ones. To see a steel frame wrapped in a transparent photo, and have that clunky thing become a thing with no dimensions at all, titillates. Casey Jane Ellison takes the old form of stand-up comedy or talk shows to explore states of hypervisibility on social media and the earnest failed ways we try to communicate; Frank Benson presents a hyperreal rendition of the trans body of one of his fellow “Surround Audience” participants, Juliana Huxtable, which includes her breasts and penis. To be both bodies at once, to unveil the enigma and beauty of both, is radical vulnerability, while the new sculptural persona achieved via scanning and what looks like 3-D printing turns this most physical thing vividly, paradoxically immaterial. Speaking of which, also get a load of Steve Roggenbuck’s mad poetic video ramblings of a self looking inside and outside at the same time.
As probing as these and other works are, I won’t recommend seeing this show without a serious warning and complaint. As with the last triennial, “Surround Audience” has way too many lengthy wall labels explicating multi-level backstories, histories, sciences, rationales, philosophies, various lores, myths, art history, and personal narratives. Wall labels like these are epidemic in museums. The problem isn’t reading. It’s that what the text claims the work is “about” is rarely actually in the work itself, and is only on the wall label or in the artist and curator’s flimsy imaginations. The label next to Velázquez’s Las Meninas is a tiny fraction as long as those accompanying most contemporary art in museums. Long labels like these are a triumph of pedagogy over the object, a breaking of faith with art and its audiences. Worse, they evince institutions and artists armoring themselves in ridiculously obtuse, implacable language to hide the fact that their ideas are skin-deep, masturbatory, lazy, and banal.
And it’s not just labels. The art world as a whole is enamored with work that withholds some backstory — intellectual, biographical, material, or influence-based — to be delivered only upon request, through conversation with a gallerist, a curator, or the artist him- or herself. It’s really elitist. When one is told the secret, we are meant to feel a tingle of personal insight (“I see. His mother was kidnapped.”), even when the story doesn’t add up to much or seem to be actually present in the work. While the phenomenon isn’t entirely new, it does connect with the logic and language of the internet, which is this triennial’s subject. Namely, the way the internet prizes secret or arcane understandings — links that only you’ve found, cults that you visit while still in your bedroom — even while making all information instantly accessible, though often without real understanding. The internet may radically flatten hierarchies of knowledge, but it also builds little tribal moats around particular ideas. Most important, it doesn’t even recognize either of the paradoxes or contradictions contained in that approach. (See most Zombie Formalism, and much of the above-mentioned neo-conceptual practice.) As good as it is in places, I left “Surround Audience” convinced that museum labels shouldn’t be longer than three inches. With that in mind: Only read the last two lines of any label, rejoice in curators gleaning the digital as a new landscape, garner activism inside disappointment, and don’t miss “Surround Audience.”
*This article appears in the March 9, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.
It is early 2009. Hope and change are in the air. President Obama stands before the camera delivering his Inaugural Address, but within seconds something seems off. The speech is not the pragmatic one he gave on that cold January day but a fiery message in which he excoriates “peddlers of hate whose stock-in-trade is xenophobia, homophobia, racism, sexism and isolationism, and who define America by our differences rather than our common bonds.”
As he speaks, his face seems to be slipping digitally — and disturbingly — around his skull, and you suddenly realize it is not the president but an actor who has had the president’s portrait software-mapped uncertainly to his own face. The video is the creation of Josh Kline, an influential 35-year-old New York artist. And his Philip K. Dick vision of an alternate past wishfully conjuring an alternate present provides a fitting window onto the ambitions of the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, a show that will take on the widely debated and often misunderstood ideas of “posthuman” and “post-Internet” art as squarely as any American museum has.
Opening Feb. 25, the exhibition includes Mr. Kline and 50 other artists and collectives from more than two dozen countries, many of whom have never shown in the United States before and whose work casts a queasy science-fiction eye onto an ever more digital, more automated, more omniscient society. The show, the third iteration of the museum’s emerging-art triennial, has been highly anticipated in part because of its two curators — Lauren Cornell, a former director of Rhizome, the Internet-focused art organization; and Ryan Trecartin, one of the most admired artists of his generation, whose video work has always seemed to exist at least a dozen years in the future, where identity, language and humanity itself have become as gleefully anarchic as a 14-year-old’s social-media feed.
The triennial is titled “Surround Audience,” Mr. Trecartin’s effort to capture that sense of a wired world in which, as Ms. Cornell puts it, “technology and late capitalism have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world.” For many of the show’s younger artists, the Internet and the digital revolution are no longer just the tools and delivery system for their work but the air they breathe and the world they see before their eyes. That also means that while the digital might not be formally present at all in some of the work, it still hovers sociologically and politically on every side.
“I think I look at the way things are changing more from an optimistic standpoint, and Lauren tends to see it more from a dystopian one, but the older I get the more complicated my own views get,” said Mr. Trecartin, 34, who told The New Yorker last year: “Everything we do is going to be captured and archived in an accessible form, whether you want it or not. It’s going to change all of our lives. We are a species that can no longer assume a sense of privacy. It’s not an individual decision, and I feel that’s exciting to explore — or something.”
In an essay for a show last year called “Art Post-Internet” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, the curators Karen Archey and Robin Peckham tried to find some consensus about the kind of art that Mr. Trecartin and other young artists have brought to attention in recent years, writing that “post-Internet refers not to a time ‘after’ the Internet but rather to an Internet state of mind — to think in the fashion of the network.”
And by that definition, most of the artists in the triennial seem to be fully in a “post” world, one without much abstract painting (there is none in the show) but lots of representations of bodies yearning to leave human form, in ways that science-fiction novelists and philosophers have been imagining for years. The posthuman has become more prevalent in pop culture, too — in movies like “Her” (man falls in love with operating system) and “Transcendence” (man becomes one with the Internet), but 21st-century artists can move with a nimbleness that often puts them in touch with the implications of technological change before the culture at large.
Casey Jane Ellison, a Los Angeles stand-up comic and artist in the triennial, creates video routines using digital avatars that vaguely resemble her but sometimes look more like Max Headroom. Antoine Catala, a French artist working in New York, has made previous work consisting of drones that fly around a space, analyzing the images in it and reciting descriptions of them in a mechanical voice. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, a Spanish artist working in Brazil, has conceived an installation in which New Museum viewers will wear a version of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset and be transposed into a representation of the rapidly disappearing Mata Atlântica rain forest in Brazil.
There will be paint on canvas in the show, though most of it by artists deeply immersed in the digital, like Avery K. Singer, a figurative painter in the South Bronx who often depicts comically simple robot-like figures that she creates in virtual 3-D space using a SketchUp animation program.
And there will also be work by artists that addresses the technological revolution only by seeking to deny it as thoroughly as possible. Eduardo Navarro, an Argentine artist who has worked with meditation and trance, is creating a work called “Timeless Alex,” in which a performer will meditate for days to try to enter the mind-state of a turtle and then wear a handmade turtle shell and creep across the city. Mr. Navarro, who describes turtles as “the opposite of the Internet,” explained one recent morning in a studio adjacent to the New Museum, where he has been creating the turtle shell, that part of the aim is to suggest a conception of time probably always inconceivable to humans but now certainly so.
“If it’s boring to watch, I think that will be better because watching a turtle can be very boring,” he said, speaking quite slowly, as if already trying to get on reptile time. “I like the idea that turtles are not even aware of their own longevity.”
In a recent interview at the museum, after travels that took her, non-virtually, to more than two dozen countries in search of emerging artists, Ms. Cornell, 36, said: “I think there is this kind of expectation, because Ryan and I are the curators, that the show is going to be all holograms and that we’re going to fly in on U.F.O.s. But it’s because there are still pretty simplistic ways of thinking about art in the digital age. That kind of online-offline binary that used to exist about art made with technology or the Internet as a factor doesn’t really exist anymore.”
Mr. Kline is one of many artists in the show who plumb the darker depths of contemporary society — surveillance, identity theft, government coercion, the commodification of “the most literally intimate aspects of life,” as the show’s catalog says — with an unabashed political edge. For “Hope and Change,” his Obama-inauguration piece, he hired David Meadvin, a veteran Democratic speechwriter and strategist, to rewrite the address in a way that imagines change from within the political system being possible.
Calling his creation a “kind of simulated open-source Obama,” Mr. Kline said: “Obama campaigned as a transformational candidate and once he got into office, here was this very pragmatic, efficient technocrat. This is definitely about trying to actualize the presidency that people voted for.” For the triennial, Mr. Kline has also created a piece in which he uses face-mapping software to morph off-duty uniformed police officers, whom he hired for the occasion, so that they come to look like civilians. In this transfigured state, the officers recite words from the social-media feeds of the civilians they have been made to resemble, as if their job entails not only monitoring the lives of others but also almost supplanting those lives. Similarly, Nadim Abbas, an artist working in Hong Kong, has built a artwork, commissioned by the New Museum, in the form of a kind of biohazard bunker that feels like a cozy apartment, an attempt to show how “violence has been sublimated into the fabric of the everyday,” as he said in an interview.
But others in the show play around the idea of an emergent Big-Brother-capitalist-military state in much more ambiguous ways, making it tough to tell which side they are on — or suggesting that sides are just so depressingly 20th century. K-Hole, a New York collective that makes work in the form of brand research (in 2013 it coined the term “normcore,” which took the fashion world by storm) has made its work for the triennial in the form of an advertising campaign for the show itself, which will soon begin showing up on buses and the streets.
The ad slogans, written with input from Mr. Trecartin, tweak the suspicions and fears many people seem to harbor about the kind of art the show will feature: “No Past, No Present, No Problem” and “Nothing Lasts Forever” (Mr. Trecartin’s suggestions included “Meaning Needed,” “Triennial Season 3” and “Pay Me in Feelings;” he wrote to K-Hole explaining that the aim of his slogans was to “get high school and middle-school kids to come see the show on their own inspired terms.”)
Probably the most visible and provocative piece in the show, in the glassed-in lobby gallery, will be by the New York collective DIS, which over the last four years has pushed questions of where art ends and fashion and merchandising begin to a kind of breaking point. The triennial work will be an installation in the form of a surreally combined kitchen and bathroom, made by the collective in collaboration with the high-end German fixture manufacturer Dornbracht.
“We like that it is going to be extremely confusing — some people are going to read this as a product showroom,” said Lauren Boyle, one of the collective’s members, who explained that the group became interested in the company after seeing its “hyper-real imagery” on Pinterest. “Google brought us to Dornbracht through Pinterest, in a way, through this weird sort of feedback loop. And so I guess we wanted to create another kind of feedback loop and bring the actual thing into the art world.”
A performer in the kitchen-bathroom will shower as visitors watch, merging the role of performance artist and showroom model. But Ms. Boyle, evincing no hint of irony, said the group also dreamed of inviting Gwyneth Paltrow to take part in the project, to add to it in ways they could not imagine. “Basically to do anything she wants to do,” Ms. Boyle said, beaming, “because she’s amazing.”
1View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015.
12(Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015.
1View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
2View of DIS, The Island, 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
3View of K-HOLE, Extended Release (detail), 2015. Advertising campaign, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York.
4Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Phantom, 2015. Virtual environment and Oculus Rift DK2, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, and Esther Schipper, Berlin.
5Josh Kline, Freedom (detail), 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
6Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh), from the series “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF-CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING,” 2015. Inkjet print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York.
7Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012. Mixed-media installation, three parts, 230 x 280 x 210 cm each.
8Aleksandra Domanović, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
9View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
10View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. (Left) Nicholas Mangan, Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009. HD video, sound, color, 12:27 minutes. (Right) Nicholas Mangan, Dawiyogo’s Ancient Coral Coffee Table, 2009-2010. Coral limestone from the island of Nauru, 120 x 80 x 45 cm. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
11Basim Magdy, The Dent, 2014. Still from super 16mm film transferred to full HD video, sound, color, 19:02 minutes. Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery, Cairo.
12View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. (Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. Water, steel pipes, acrylic paint, dimensions variable. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. Water, steel pipes, acrylic paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
After six years and three installments, is the New Museum’s Triennial entering middle age? An odd question for an exhibition devoted to “early-career artists,” as the museum’s press release describes them. But compared with its predecessors, the latest rollout, which is called Surround Audience, frankly isn’t all that audacious.
There’s a lot to see — the exhibition, which was organized by New Museum curator Lauren Cornell and the artist Ryan Trecartin, feels crowded in spots — but that doesn’t translate into the knockabout energy that characterized the earlier versions. This may be a byproduct of the curatorial focus, which grounds the show in a context of technological interconnectedness. From the press release:
We are surrounded by a culture replete with impressions of life, be they visual, written, or construed through data. We move through streams of chatter, swipe past pictures of other people’s lives, and frame our own experiences as, all the while, our digital trails are subtly captured, tracked, and stored.
The statement puts contemporary culture at a remove from reality (“replete with impressions of life”) as it underscores the distractions that derail us from true engagement with art or each other. Accordingly, as if not to crack the veneer of a network thrumming with interrelated ideas, most of the artworks seem content to reside on the periphery, surrounding the audience but not grabbing attention for themselves.
The air of reticence, even politeness, encountered here feels like a deliberate step away from the rambunctiousness of the earlier iterations,The Generational: Younger Than Jesus in 2009 and The Ungovernables in 2012. That may be a sign of maturity for the Triennial as well as for the artists (more than one have already breached the age of 40), but it doesn’t really make for an exciting show.
Paradoxically, the emphasis on daily life’s immersion in technology as a curatorial premise seems to work against the exhibition’s cutting-edge intentions. Technology is so much a part of who we are, regardless of age, that to remark upon its ubiquity at this point feels dated and even a little clueless. Video, photography and digital devices may abound in this show, which also features lots of sculptural objects and a handful of paintings and drawings, but its look and feel aren’t markedly different from other surveys.
Which is another reason why the exhibition seems middle-aged. The first two Triennials, by dint of their age restrictions, felt front-loaded with a sense of discovery. While the current show is filled with just as many fresh faces, the work on display appears more generic, more tried and true, as if it belongs in the Whitney Biennial instead of the distinct niche that the New Museum has carved out for itself with the Triennial. Even the title is bland and hard to grasp, unlike the artist-centric handles of the previous two. Priorities have shifted, it would seem, from the individualistic to the atmospheric, the unruly to the phlegmatic.
A case in point is “The Island (KEN)” (2015) by the collective DIS, which, at the press preview, featured a performance by a fully-clothed woman who lay beneath a horizontal shower stall for about ten minutes before silently emerging, soaking wet, to turn off the faucets.
This piece may be among the most arresting in the show, but it felt like a retread of Chu Yun’s far edgier “This is XX” (2006) from the first Triennial, in which volunteers (after ingesting what was described in the wall text as “sleeping aids”) would lie in bed asleep during viewing hours, creating a discomfiting power imbalance between the conscious and the unconscious — an aesthetic experience inextricable from voyeurism.
Still, thankfully, the dreariness afflicting the last couple of Biennials is nowhere in evidence. There is enough variety to sustain interest, even if the assortment does not ultimately hold together, let alone add up into a sum greater than its parts.
Among the more fractious works are Geumhyung Jeong’s video “Fitness Guide” (2011), which includes an attempt by the artist to outrace an out-of-control treadmill; Nadim Abbas’s isolation chambers dedicated to three American filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola; Shreyas Karle’s fetish objects; and Juliana Huxtable’s incantatory poetry and quasi-mythic self-portraits, which are installed in dialogue with Frank Benson’s meticulously rendered sculpture of the transgendered Huxtable’s nude body.
Like the earlier Triennials, there is at least one breakout work to fix the exhibition in memory. And like such showstoppers as LaToya Ruby Frazier’s searing domestic photographs and Keren Cytter’s demonic video “Der Spiegel” (2007) in The Generational, or Adrián Villar Rojas’ towering sci-fi golem from The Ungovernables, Eva Koťátková’s performance/installation “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” (2013) is a confluence of personal and cultural histories, a repurposing of selective traditions into a bracing new configuration.
Writing in the exhibition catalogue, Rachel Wetzler describes Koťátková’s art as ingrained with elements of Czech avant-garde theater, Art Brut and Surrealism, set against a backdrop of the failed states of Communist Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring.
“Not How People Move But What Moves Them” is composed of a large yellow wall outfitted with a door and shelves, and hung with framed collages. The shelves hold a variety of sinister/funny objects made from wire, steel, thread, terra cotta, leather and other materials, all of which will presumably be “activated,” to use the term found in the piece’s wall text, by performers at various points during the run of the exhibition. Larger examples of these structures, all of which are meant to constrain the body in some way, sit on the floor.
The objects are both props for the performers, who silently pose — standing or lying on the floor — with the pieces attached to their bodies, and persuasive works of sculpture in a funky-Minimalist mode. The collages, which are squarely — perhaps a little too squarely — in the mold of John Heartfield and Hannah Hoch, depict painfully fanciful applications of the objects on variously deconstructed human bodies.
The catalogue entry states that Koťátková’s sculptures derive from “disciplinary systems as a point of departure, ranging from those found in the family home and schools to psychiatric institutions or prisons.” These repressive tactics are conjoined with a highly specific art historical lineage that evokes the prewar work of Alberto Giacometti, such as “The Cage” (1930-31) and “The Palace at 4 A.M.” (1932); the infernal machine from “The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope” (1983) by the great Czech animator Jan Švankmajer; and the Eastern European Surrealist dread suffusing the Quay Brothers’ “Street of Crocodiles” (1986), a stop-action animation freely adapted from the stories of the Polish writer Bruno Schulz.
What is most compelling about Koťátková’s “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” is that it is activated not only by the performers, but also by the viewers’ imaginations. What will be done with the clay pots, we might ask, and why is there an undulating wire construction resembling an elephant’s trunk attached to a hole in the door? And why is the door leaning against the wall rather than set into a jamb? One question leads to the next, as the mysteries embedded in each detail draw us deeper into the piece.
“Not How People Move…” represents the kind of interactivity — not digital, but intellectual, physical and emotional — that many of the works in the Triennial lack. It doesn’t attempt to surround the audience; instead, its tough materiality and formal elegance inch their way across the threshold of consciousness until they lodge, uninvited, in the brain.
New Museum Triennial exhibition highlights wide range of ‘exuberant’ works by young artists
A performers in the activation of Eva Kot’átková’s work ‘Not How People Move But What Moves Them’ at the 2015 New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
Feb. 24, 2015 8:21 p.m. ET
On a recent morning in a studio on the Bowery, talk-show host Casey Jane Ellison had a pressing question for a panel gathered in advance of the New Museum Triennial opening Wednesday.
“What is the most insane thing about art?” she asked her guests, two other artists and a patron. “Is it the money? Is it the content? Is it the people?”
Her tone suggested that she thought it was all three—and that insanity might be a virtue.
Special episodes of Ms. Ellison’s web series “Touching the Art,” now in its second season online on the Ovation network, will screen on a loop in the lobby of the New Museum, as part of its triennial exhibition titled “Surround Audience.” They are among works by 51 young artists and artist collectives hailing from 25 countries.
The show defines art broadly, including sound, dance, comedy, poetry, installation, sculpture, painting, video, and yes, a web-based satirical talk show. Half the pieces were commissioned for the exhibition, which runs through May 24.
Artist Casey Jane Ellison is projected on a monitor as she hosts her talk show ‘Touching The Art,’ part of her exhibition at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal
At the shooting for a particularly reflexive episode of Ms. Ellison’s show, the topic under discussion was the significance of triennials and biennials—curated roundups of new art—in an age of abundant, often hypercompetitive art fairs.
“What is a triennial?” asked Ms. Ellison, 26 years old, in a deadpan manner that signaled her sometime persona as a standup comedian.
“It’s kind of like a sports competition, definitely not like the Super Bowl,” said the artist K8 Hardy.
“What is the Super Bowl?” Ms. Ellison asked.
Visitors preview artist Josh Kline’s new installation ‘Freedom’ (2015), at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
The exhibit, said co-organizer and New Museum curator Lauren Cornell, is “very exuberant and very surreal.”
In it, artists address life in an increasingly digitized, hyper-aware world through topics such as virtual reality, drones, avatars, product design and advertising. One work by the artist collective K-Hole takes the form of an ad campaign for the triennial, doubling as both genuine marketing and conceptual critique.
Other chosen works poke provocatively at notions of gender, race, nationality—and the relationship between artists, their identities and their audience.
“We were thinking about people who are assuming a spot in their own audience or allowing for different vantage points to come at their work that they didn’t intend,” said video artist Ryan Trecartin, who co-curated the triennial along with Ms. Cornell.
New York-based Juliana Huxtable, for one, said most people who know her “are aware of me as a night life and Internet figure, so I’m happy [the curators] understand all the aspects of what I do and the connections between them.”
Artist Juliana Huxtable poses in front of her artwork at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
The exhibit includes self-portraits of the 27-year-old transgender artist posed in digitally enhanced settings with fantastical colors and editing effects that make her look, at times, like an online avatar.
Is she excited to move her art off the Internet and onto museum walls?
“I think I’m really excited,” Ms. Huxtable said. “It’s not about privileging that over other ways of creating, but it’s an opportunity to translate the work I do for different people. Not everyone relates to or understands the world of Tumblr or social networking.”
José León Cerrillo, an artist from Mexico City, achieved a different effect with a minimalist sculptural installation that plays tricks on the mind and the eye. The works, which define space with a skeletal metal framing, greet viewers right off the elevator, arranging the room with what seem like visions into extra dimensions.
“I think of them as screens into the act of looking,” Mr. Cerrillo said. “The idea was to point into the void.”
For a series of dance performances that will be presented throughout the triennial, Niv Acosta —who grew up in Washington Heights and the Bronx and now lives in Brooklyn—drew inspiration from the portrayal of the black American experience in science fiction.
“I’ve been thinking about…how it’s translated into being like an alien culture,” said Mr. Acosta, 26. “Often the people in these projections are female-bodied or female-presenting, bodacious and dancing.”
Artist Niv Acosta performs an excerpt of ‘DISCOTROPIC’ in the Sky Room at the New Museum. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
For his piece, Mr. Acosta and three other dancers will take over the New Museum’s theater and gallery spaces to interpret “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” originally made for network television in 1978, and now viewable online.
He said his favorite scene features the African-American actress Diahann Carroll singing inside a machine called the Mind Evaporator.
“It’s a super-pervy but also majestic moment,” Mr. Acosta said. “It’s exciting for people who are queer-identified and also black to think about what our lineage is in the terms of sci-fi and disco. These are our ancestors in a way.”
The exhibition, in all its analytical energy and cultural commentary, is particularly suited for New York, said co-curator Mr. Trecartin, himself a Los Angeles native. “It’s so much a city for showing things in their final state…a place for things to go to be presented and judged, and I like that there’s a city so exhaustingly all about that.”
If the New Museum Triennial is to be believed, 2015 might in fact be the year that artists put the pervasive notions of “cyber-dread” to death in the contemporary discourse. Curated by Ryan Trecartin and New Museum Curator (and former Rhizome head) Lauren Cornell, the exhibition combines aspirational commodities, linguistic play and digital microcosms into a fascinatingly deep exhibition, one that feels particularly appropriate as the 21st century turns 15.
Works by Ana Graff, via Art Observed
Trecartin’s particular blend of digital maximalism was jarring by nearly all accounts when it first breached the art world over ten years ago, but as his breakneck editing and hyper-commodified landscapes gained a certain degree of palatability in recent years, so too did the work of his contemporaries: the Dis collective, poet/artist Juliana Huxtable, critic and writer Brian Droitcour, and a range of other artists in the orbit of the downtown New York art community, each of whom took their own respective viewpoints on the development and embrace of contemporary life within hyper-mediated spaces.
Josh Kline, Freedom (2015), via Art Observed
Verena Dengler, via Art Observed
The Triennial, as a result, feels like something of a victory lap, a recognition of their particular approach to capital and consumption in the millennial era. Throughout, mechanisms of production are bound up with their distribution and practical use, or perhaps vice versa, as illustrated in the marketing and social media campaign devised by K-Hole, including a selection of social media “stickers” users are invited to adorn Instagram photos and share, and a lighthearted poster series with phrases like “I’ll Triennial Once,” that invites publicity as a space of play and innovation.
Eloise Hawser, The Bride’s House, via Art Observed
Performers at Eva Kotatkova’s installation, via Art Observed
A certain sense of generative practice sits at the heart of much of the work, embracing new modes of expression within older forms as a point of departure. One highlight is the dizzying glow of Antoine Catala’sDistant Feel, a new emoticon and website platform developed by the artist as a method to express empathy online (expressed as “E3″). Placed in a tank, the immense scuptural rendering of the icon is used to grow coral and other sea-life, a space for the maintenance and sustenance of new life within the cold linguistic confines of the digital. On the ground floor, Dis has produced a gleaming horizontal shower/fountain, complete with a beverage tap, in which a performer lies down, inside its clean lines, fully clothed, while enjoying what appears to be a mint julep from. The sheer excess of the work walks a fine line between critique and fetish. One wonders if the object merely pushes luxury beyond practicality, assuming the role of art object, or if is this goal merely propels it to a new level of commodity capitalism. Several floors up, artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan has created a sonic environment exploring the critical noise pollution of Cairo, where cabs, bustling markets and mosque sound systems have created one of the most densely sonorous spaces in the world.
Lena Henke, via Art Observed
Guan Xiao, via Art Observed
In other works, this same sense of playfulness and exploration turns its eye towards the archive. The work of Eva Kotatkova, for instance, places performers among a selection of sculptures that vaguely reference early twentieth century surrealism, but are placed into interactions with a pair of performers, turning their intersections into a constantly shifting relationship with the works’ own historical references. On the fourth floor, spatial intrusions by José Léon Cerrillo, Verena Dengler and Tania Pérez Córdova interact to create a drastically reformatted flow of movement, utilizing pop imagery and familiar sculptural forms to reformat the space of the museum as one of physical encounter. Close by, Oliver Laric’s hypnotic video, depicting copied transformations of characters in varied animated television programs worldwide, proved an early favorite, inviting meditations on the structure and definition of bodies in media representation, and the willful desire for fluidity among them.
Dis, The Island (KEN) (2015), via Art Observed
Yet the exhibition doesn’t shy away from the darker corners of digital modernity, either. In the ground floor gallery, bitingly close to Dis’s aforementioned installation is Consumption, Chinese artist Li Liao’s performance work in which he assumed a position at a Foxconn-operated plant, creating components for iPhones and iPads, finally saving up enough after 45 days to buy an iPad himself. The sheer scale of labor to merely own this icon of digital consumption is sobering. But for sheer shock, few works can escape Josh Kline’sFreedom, a dystopian environment populated by shock troop mannequins, all masked with the faces of Teletubbies. Nearby, the artist’s face-mapped performance as Barack Obama features a speech the artist longed for the president to give during his tenure, decrying corporate greed and calling for citizens to take back their government.
Li Liao, Consumption (2012), via Art Observed
At times sprawling and surreal, at others powerfully concise, the New Museum’s current exhibition is a deep look at a disparate series of practices, united by material and political concerns that gradually emerge throughout the show’s five floors. Almost impossible to properly summarize, the Triennial takes the polymorphic formats of digital circulation and places them into a free-flowing exchange, one which shifts from every perspective.
Surround Audience is on view through May 24th.
Aleksandra Domanovic, via Art Observed
— D. Creahan
“Review: New Museum Triennial Casts a Wary Eye on the Future” [New York Times]
“New Museum Triennial: Art for a Digitalized World” [Wall Street Journal]
“The 10 Most Interesting Works From the New Museum’s Triennial” [Bloomberg]
“Meet Juliana Huxtable: Star of the New Museum Triennial” [Vogue]
“Where Virtual Equals Real” [New York Times]
New Museum Triennial [Exhibition Site]
The 10 Most Interesting Works From the New Museum’s Triennial
At a sprawling, ambitious show, sometimes it’s the small things that stand out
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by James Tarmy
2:59 PM PST
February 25, 2015
?The New Museum’s Triennial opened today in New York. The exhibit, titled “Surround Audience,” is organized by the museum’s own curator, Lauren Cornell, along with Ryan Trecartin, a video artist known for creating manic videos and installations featuring him, his friends, and a seemingly limitless supply of face paint and props. Together, Cornell, Trecartin, and a number of curatorial assistants have assembled works by 51 artists from 25 countries that span sculpture, performance, painting, and in the case of an installation by the collective DIS, a hybrid kitchen-bathroom fabricated by the high-end appliance maker Dornbracht.
That’s right. A kitchen-slash-bathroom.
To outsiders, contemporary art can often feel remote or convoluted, and sometimes it is. In other instances, though—especially in a museum context such as the Triennial’s—there’s a wealth of interesting, dynamic, and thought-provoking material waiting to be unpacked. Often it’s just a matter of knowing how to approach the work on display and what to look for when you see it.
At this year’s Triennial, which is jammed with an overwhelming amount of art, it’s easy to overlook some of the better works because there are so many vying for your consideration. Monumental interactive bunkers by the artist Nadim Abbas or a bright, looming installation by the artist Guan Xiao might grab your attention, but smaller works are the stars of the show. I’m thinking of a sound installation by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, or taut, weird paintings by Sascha Braunig, or a looped video installation by the comedian/ artist Casey Jane Ellison.
In an effort to make your visit as streamlined as possible, here’s a cheat sheet of 10 artists from this year’s Triennial to look for.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Detail of Tape Echo, 2013-14
Mumbai-based curator Diana Campbell Betancourt travels the world in search of promising new artists. Now she’s one of 14 advisors helping to assemble the roster for the New Museum Triennial, which opens on February 25 in New York City. We asked her about the experience.
Q: How did you get involved with the Triennial?
A: Travel is at the heart of my practice—I’m not an armchair curator. I’d done studio visits in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Myanmar for the Samdani Art Foundation and the Dhaka Art Summit. Lauren Cornell, one of the Triennial’s main curators, liked my work in Bangladesh, and then the invitation came.
Q: Which artists are you most excited about?
A: Zar Min Htike is a Burmese painter who was in jail for seven years and who used to imagine ghosts were in there with him. He does these crazy surrealist works using discarded paints. I also met Shreyas Karle in Bombay in 2010. His Cinema City installation—which comments on the discord between urban life in India and its depiction in Bollywood—will be on display at the Triennial.
Q: What part of the world are you interested in next?
A: I’ve been seeing a lot of great artists from Mexico. Pedro Reyes takes guns that were used for drug warfare in Juárez and turns them into musical instruments. They’re beautiful pieces, but bringing them into India is difficult, as you can imagine.
Does the third edition of the New Museum Triennial, Surround Audience, struggle amidst curatorial conceits? Brienne Walsh reports
For the third edition of its triennial showcase for early-career and emerging artists, the New Museum claims a light curatorial touch. Entitled Surround Audience, the show professes to explore the tension between new forms of freedom in contemporary culture and threats to such freedom — embodied by social media, extremist states, the corporate sovereign entity, and the cult of self, to name a few examples. What the exhibition emits in execution is a sort of self-driven approach to both art making and curatorial practice.
Exploring themes such as sexuality, racism, nationalism, and consumerism, most of the works — by 51 artists from 25 countries, many of who identify as poets, dancers, designers, writers, and filmmakers rather than artists — are highly personal. But instead of connecting with one another, the pieces stand within the museum walls as cloistered units, reading like individual manifestos. The effect is somewhat like reading a blog composed of posts examining completely disparate topics. ‘It was really important to encourage the artists to do what they wanted to do, and not impose too much,’ says video and performance artist Ryan Trecartin, who co-curated the show with New Museum curator Lauren Cornell. ‘I just drop out of that shit if someone tries to do it to me.’
Casey Jane Ellison, IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO SEEM WONDERFUL, 2015 (still).
Video, sound, color. Courtesy the artist
Staging a show that reads like an art fair, where many exhibitive displays are offered in a single forum, wasn’t the intention of the curators. According to Trecartin, the museum was meant as a ‘jumping off point into the world rather than a place where things are put into.’ In the context of other exhibitions, such as Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond,which closed at the Brooklyn Museum last month and truly did extend off-site with works such as Pimp My Piragua, 2009, a coco helado cart that artist Miguel Luciano drove through the neighbourhood during the course of the show, Surround Audience is fairly unexceptional.
The show’s pervasive sense of alienation is introduced by Casey Jane Ellison’s Touching the Art, 2014. Presented on a television in the museum lobby, the ongoing series of videos features the artist in discussion with various cultural workers on the state of the art world. ‘I’m in a death metal band, and I’m only in the art world by accident,’ states musician and performance artist Kembra Pfahler. ‘I think we all are,’ replies Ellison.
DIS, Studies for The Island (KEN), 2015. Codesigned by Mike Meiré. Courtesy the artists and Dornbracht
Freedom, 2015, by Josh Kline well embodies the cult of self that runs throughout the Triennial. In a black box, life-size figures dressed in riot gear sport Teletubby heads and stomachs implanted with screens offering remarks on the culture’s proliferation of violence sourced from social media. These surround an HD video that depicts a digitally rendered version of President Barack Obama giving an inaugural address authored by the artist. ‘People who love the country can change it,’ says the facsimile, echoing a sentiment that galvanised the 2008 presidential campaign, now deemed as rhetoric unable to survive 21st-century political realities. As a dream of what could have been in the face of what is, the work reads as naïve rather than insightful.
Despite wanting to shed the label of artist, all of the show’s practitioners are keenly accomplished at creating art objects. There isn’t a work in the exhibition that doesn’t appear entirely at home in the museum galleries. The Island (Ken), 2015, by the collective DIS is a mash-up of kitchen and bathroom fixtures designed by the German luxury goods manufacturer Dornbracht. Commenting on the confluence of high-end design and fine art as systems that rely on one another to appeal to potential consumers, the piece will be the site of various performances including product demonstrations, cooking lessons, and a lucky few participants taking actual showers. Without its interactive component, however, the work, which resembles a tanning bed, remains quietly hermetic. Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel, 2015, is a pair of facing letter Es constructed from living aquatic plants encased in an aquarium. Pulsating with life, the work is the result of a collaboration between Catala and the advertising agency Droga5 that attempts to re-brand the concept of empathy. Regardless of its conceptual intent, its hard not to see it simply as a mind-numbingly beautiful object.
Left: Juliana Huxtable, Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm) from the “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” series, 2015. Inkjet print. Courtesy the artist; Right: Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh) from the “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” series, 2015. Inkjet print. Courtesy the artist
And aesthetically, the show appeals. Frank Benson’s Juliana, 2015, is a regal, nude statue, painted in shimmering tones of green and purple, of artist Juliana Huxtable, who is represented by her own self portraits as a comely female force with whom anyone would be lured into reckoning. Museum Shop of Fetish Objects, 2012, by Shreyas Karle, is a cabinet of curiosities that examines the culture of Bollywood with the clinical air of an anthropologist. Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s And We Begin To Let It Go, 2013, is a collage of thread, Xerox transfers of advertisements and women’s fashion images, and paint, that depicts the artist kissing the back of her husband. One could potentially spend hours before it, detangling its many references.
With people taking to the streets globally to protest injustice, the Triennial’s stab at cultural commentary will likely have little lasting impact. It reflects rather than leads, which is a shame given the potential for art to shape perceptions in society. ‘For some, it will be more traditional than expected, and for others, it will be a lot weirder,’ says Trecartin. The stance of being impervious to the reaction of others might be necessary for an artist to take to make bold work. But if Surround Audience is any indication, curatorial indifference to viewer experience only has the effect leaving both artists and visitors cold.
Main image: Frank Benson, Juliana, 2015. Digital renderings of painted Accura® Xtreme Plastic rapid prototype. 54 x 48 x 24 in (137.2 x 122 x 61 cm) (approx.). Courtesy the artist; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Sadie Coles HQ London
THE GUARDIAN LONDON
New Museum’s Generational Triennial: wired for the future
The 51 young artists in the New York gallery’s show are exploring the frontiers of digital technology, from the surveillance state to gaming culture
“Almost everybody wakes up and does something they don’t like – we can do better than this! … You are going to die: Make something beautiful before you die!” Screaming manically, alone in a damp Maine forest, the euphoric intensity of internet poet Steve Roggenbuck is balanced with humour in his 2012 video Make Something Beautiful Before You Are Dead. Roggenbuck embraces the cosmos and encourages us to do the same: “Back in my grandfather’s day they didn’t have #yolo! We have #yolo! We have to harness this gift,” he yells.
He is one of the 51 artists and collectives included in Surround Audience, the New Museum’s third Generational Triennial, which opens on Wednesday. The exhibition is hotly anticipated, largely because of its two curators: Lauren Cornell, a former director of Rhizome, a New Museum-affiliated organisation that has been promoting digital art for almost two decades, and Ryan Trecartin, the artist wunderkind whose work has been received rapturously by critics since he emerged on the scene in 2006.
Because of their shared engagement with new digital technology, the exhibition is expected to be future-focused (“predictive, rather than retrospective”, according to New Museum director Lisa Phillips). People are eagerly awaiting the outcome of Cornell and Trecartin’s shared endeavour, which brings together artists from countries including Jordan, Qatar, South Korea, China and India, as well as Europe and America: “We’re expecting to be wowed by the breadth of interesting new work,” says collector Mihail Lari, who, together with his partner Scott Murray, has provided support for the exhibition.
“I think we are lucky to have a lot of artists in the world right now who are truly trying to invent and establish a unique creative freedom. Artists are reaching,” Trecartin says. Most of the artists in the exhibition are digital natives, born into an age of rapid technological change. While artists have always used the tools available to them, those in the triennial are particularly agnostic about medium. Their work is a mash-up of different materials and digital platforms, from PVC, nail polish, jade powder and oil paint, to works incorporating 3D printers, Google Earth and HD video.
For many of the artists, the medium is merely the means of expression, not the subject. The exhibition focuses on artists who, Trecartin says, “are creating new realities through their transformative thinking. They aren’t concerned with the somewhat parochial thinking about what an art practice can or should encompass right now. It’s hard to meditate on potential futures when we are still transitioning out of a period that has been culturally obsessed with defining the past through acts of rejection or fetishization. There are many artists today who are not only looking past older entrenched ways of thinking about art, they are actually behaving past it.”
The wired ways in which we receive information today – a lot of it all at once – is suggested both by the kaleidoscopic range of influences evident in the exhibition, and their compression. The artists eddy around a swell of subjects from art history to sci-fi fiction, from the surveillance state to gaming culture, from racism in America to issues of self-identity – with their evident paranoia tempered by a healthy dose of humour.
Many of the artists in the show express a sense of invasion, whether by technology, political systems or the effects of late capitalism. Several deal with the environment, such as Lisa Tan’s Waves, which uses Skype footage, HD video and Google’s virtual Art project. Taking Virginia Woolf’s experimental novel as its cue to explore language and consciousness, the work is also “a poetic imagination of how technology affects the planet,” Tan says. Meanwhile, Australian artist Nicholas Mangan’s Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World is based on his expeditions to Nauru, a once-booming, phosphate-rich Pacific island that has been mined to the point of destitution. “A lot of my work is about finding materials that open up stories – stuff to do with our human mark on the world,” he says. His work is far removed from digital technology. “I’m totally against social media. I find it exhausting. I guess I’m making a considered decision to move in the opposite direction. I’m much more interested in tree-ring dating – it’s like Google in reverse.”
Other artists use new media to address centuries-old concerns, such as German artist Peter Wächtler. His work, whether stop-frame animation, charcoal or video, centres around the existentialist problems of being human. Sweetly melancholic and slightly absurdist, Wächtler’s art deals with “change and the impossibility of it, the lie of it and the idea of another self”, creating “a looping environment with characters fixed and paralysed by the wish for personal change, unable to perceive that you are still the same idiot watching a different sea.”
The search for self, or loss of self, manifests in different ways: the intricate still-life works by Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby speak to the liminality of the immigrant experience; Avery K Singer’s figurative paintings of robot-like people created with a Sketch-Up animation program suggest a sense of disassociation with the body; the avatars in Ed Atkins’s videos point to the post-human possibilities long imagined by the sci-fi fiction community.
Gender identity and body politics are the focus for artists including Frank Benson, showing a 3-D sculpture of the transgender DJ and artist Juliana Huxtable (who is also a Triennial artist), or trans dancer Niv Acosta whose Discotropic performance will deal with race and queer identity.
Other works simply ask us to imagine being somebody else. A twice-daily performance piece by Luke Willis Thompson will take visitors on walks, pursuing one of his cast members and collaborators through New York in choreographed routes. “You never really know which narrative you’re going to be immersed in,” says the New Zealander. “Some of them lead home, or to an idea of home, while others are designed to disorientate the audience.” The work emerged from time spent visiting New York. “When I first came Michael Brown was still alive and when I left he wasn’t, so there is this sense of social change the cities are going through which I felt strongly had to be part of the work.”
The quest for meaning leads to new connections, and this is really what the show is about. Bringing together scores of artists from around the world, the meshing of so many ideas and intentions mirrors the way in which we consume information and create meaning. Indian artist Shreyas Karle, who is creating a museum-within-a-museum dedicated to fetish objects, which is about the impact of cinema on Bombay (and vice versa) and the idea that censorship and licentiousness are “two sides of the same coin”, is looking forward to the exchange. “My wife keeps telling me to focus on my own work, but I’m not really like that. Being asked to exhibit in the triennial, it’s less about me than it is about being part of something dynamic.”