Replete With the Impressions of Digital Life: Review of the New Museum’s Triennial

Stephanie Greene '15

Contributing Writer

The New Museum, located in the heart of Manhattan, has long been an institutional space for international contemporary art. The museum stresses the importance of exhibiting work that is made “in the present” and positions itself as somewhere between a traditional and alternative museum. Its intent is to present the work of living artists who do not have wide public exposure or global critical acceptance. Originally founded in 1977, the New Museum began as an idea of director Marcia Tucker who at the time was a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Tucker hoped to create a space where living artists could present their work without having to assimilate into the conventional format and collection structure of the exhibition.

That being said, Marcia Tucker died on October 17, 2006. Perhaps with her passing, her vision for the museum also disappeared. On February 24th the museum’s “Surrounds Audience” exhibition opened, making its third triennial. The exhibition was curated by Los Angles based video artist Ryan Trecartin and Lauren Cornell, who was the previous director of the Rhizome. Trecartin’s brilliant videos, which truly resemble cracked out Adderall junkies caught in a two way mirror, somehow don’t seem to translate into a cohesive curatorial language despite similarity in a new genre medium.

Before the entrance of the exhibition, a funny TV screen hangs from the ceiling. The screen plays Casey Jane Ellison’s “Ovation TV’s Touching the Art,” a series in which the performer interviews other artists. The series is a highly sarcastic version of a talk show curtailed for an art world audience. The work is funny, but the installation is quite confusing, as there is neither sound nor subtitles.

Overall, the exhibition focuses on technological “connectivity” and a provisional contemporary obsession with the self. The press release for the exhibition states: “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 tails are subtly captured, tracked and stored.” Many of the works manifest in non-traditional forms that characterize post-internet art: Tumblr blogs, YouTube videos, surveillance and of course, Instagram.

The exhibit also explores themes of activism, sexuality, nationalism and consumerism. These themes are taken up by a range of artists from different countries and varied artistic affiliations such as contemporary dance, poetry, and film. One of the curators reflected: “It was really important to encourage the artists to do what they wanted to do and not to impose too much…I just drop out of that shit if someone tries to do it to me.” Although a generous curatorial methodology, the result is a poorly organized and claustrophobic show.

Yet many pieces still stand out amongst the chaos of the show. Conceptual entrepreneur, Martine Syms whose interdisciplinary practice ranges from performative lectures on mundane afro-futurism to videos on future late capitalism, presented an installation that traces the representation of black bodies in American comedy TV. Argentinian performance artist Eduardo Navarro presents residue from a performance in which he explores the phenomenological position of the turtle. Transgendered beauty Juliana Huxtable is depicted in a perhaps too hyper real sculpture by artist Frank Benson; but her ink jet self-portraits have the perfect balance of agency and the post-human diva. --Overall? Intriguing art, bad curating.