That’s the subtitle of the New Museum’s latest show – an international showcase of artists aged 33 or younger. As a 32-year old creative person, it makes me want to leap into the air and stick a giant “HELL YEAH!” magnet above the entrance to the museum>>> I totally appreciate shows like this though, that make clean-cut identity distinctions. If you’ve got a curatorial thesis, telegraph it – that’s the point! Museum going isn’t a game of “Clue” – it’s fantasia, spectacle, an array of jewels laid out in the creative spirit bazaar. And “The Generational: Younger Than Jesus” promises all the freshest wares, splendors no one has seen, the thrill of brilliant new dreamers whose dreams we’ll be analyzing for years.
There is one consensus star of the show, a video artist named Ryan Trecartin. For those of you who didn’t get to New York to see this exhibit, here’s an exercise: Think of the decadence around us, all the pop-culture flim-flam, the wash of egos, promos, advertisements, the barrage of silly, superficial shows, rumors, impulses, entertainment. Think of the tattered web that holds the news, the charts, the polls, the ratings – the cracked mirror that supposedly reflects us clearly. Think of everyone else’s neuroses! What if you wanted to swallow all of it and spit it back out as manic poetry, a glaring prism of social satire? And you had a video camera? And some friends willing to participate? Would it look like THIS? (Note: Can’t find links for videos from the show, “K-Corea INC.K (section A)” and “Sibling Topics” but you get the idea…)
The two Trecartin video installations at the New Museum were the most urgent, startling, aggressive and hilarious pieces in this show, easy – a contender for the most brazenly alive work anyone is doing anywhere in the world of Art. It’s not that the individual scenes are brilliant – or even coherent. The acting, make-up, set design and cinematography are all as cinder-block crude as a suburban strip-mall. But the erratic impulsivity, the frames of reference, the layers of desire, selfishness and self-consciousness of those suburban strip-mall goers is on grand display like a coke-ridden Carnival of petty, batty bullshit. The resulting videos are as familiar as they are berserk, soda-pop cans pumped with blast-off carbonation. A few sips and you’ll never look at television, teenagers or viral video sensationalism the same, buzzing hard on the abyss of their seedy intellectual and emotional ends. Whatever’s up with Pop Culture, it gets Punk’d, so to speak. Hard.
Trecartin stands out from “The Generational”, like a knight slaying a dragon, so amped and engaged he’s out of context. The other artists, by comparison, come off awfully relaxed, clever, methodical… preoccupied. A lot of their work is the “art” of actualizing an idea. What if I bought every possession off a person in the city and then laid them out – clothes, contents of their wallet, phone, underwear, ticket stubs – like taxidermy on a table? What if I gave a girl a sleep-aid and had her sleep in a bed on display during museum hours? What if I made a video where I shadowed every move of my farmer father? What if I created a circular staircase to nowhere? These ideas were all there, actualized, at the New Museum. And they were enjoyable. But next to the fireworks from Trecartin, they’re softly falling petals.
Of the artists keeping their cool, I was particularly taken with two of the collagists. One of the instructive tactics in the displays of work by Haris Epaminonda and Elad Lassry was that they were given multi-wall space, as though works of collage need the context of other collages to focus their effects. It begs a very real question: Can a collage stand alone? Looking at the work of Haris Epaminonda, my first impression was no. But what unveils in experiencing the variety of her work is her knack for teasing maximum effect out of minimal alteration. To see just one of her vintage photographs of idols of antiquity that have been surgically opened with the precision of her scissors to reveal bright swaths of colored paper is to glimpse a lark. But to see a series of them? Now you’re looking at all the different ways she’s approached her cuts, the placement of her eye, and, from fine-line to diamond “POW!”, the careful digging she does to unearth connections. Taken together, they reveal a vision that’s only sketched singled-out. The power of her work winds up being its balance of audacity and subtlety, the way she re-enlivens artifacts with calm, gentle breaths. And they breathe back – tingling, playing, glowing in their frames like old spirits that have woken up young again. The windows she cuts into them become their windows back into the world.
If Haris Epaminonda’s work is “collage-by-incision”, then Elad Lassry’s is “collage-by-exclusion”. He re-casts his source material (advertisements and photojournalism from magazines from the 60’s and 70’s) by re-framing images and by blocking out the text around images so that they lose their mass-produced context and are returned to their photographic origins. Interspersed are his own original photographs, full of double-exposures and shifting planes that keep you asking the essential collage question: What is wrong with this image? “Baguette, Croissant”, an elegant black and white photograph of a baguette and a croissant, didn’t take me very far – if it was formalist, an old magazine photograph from a French baking article being shown out of context: meh. If it was shown for its symbolism, a play on the hammer and sickle of the Soviet flag, it was a stretch – and nearly high-tea tame. But then a few frames down, “Wolf (Blue)”, a double-exposed photograph of a black “wolf” with a cerulean blue background, stopped me cold: is it a dog or a wolf? A wolf or a mutant? A mutant or a ghost? Were the wolf eyes an exposure-irregularity like the three hind legs? Is it a dog transformed into a wolf through accidental magic? Or could it be a fucking wolf for real, chilling at the studio for a posed picture – and flustering the photographer? As photographic evidence it had dynamic interpretations, a play of text and image like “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. I suddenly wished it was ten times larger, it could have owned the room! Fuck these prim conceptual lay-outs with their small charms nuzzling small ideas – we need some slugging at the plate! How cool would it have been to go from the emotive hurricane of the Trecartin videos to a giant “Wolf (Blue)” with its commanding strangeness, it’s primal dream, it’s cut-and-pasted Hoowwwwlllllllll (and back again)? It would have been a home damn run.
As it stood, “Wolf (Blue)” was a contained pleasure, a brilliant image conceptually subsumed. I don’t know if it’s Art School etiquette, medicated nerves, or a crutch against fledgling but containment of idea and contentment with form were in lovely, expert harmony at this show, like some debutante’s ball. If these kids are pissed, they’ve sure rationalized it. It’s strange since there’s a resurgent punk ethos in indie/art culture, whether it’s lo-fi distortion or manic mash-up that seems, with the exception of Trecartin, under-represented. “Alright. Whatever. I’m doing my thing,” these artist’s sing in multi-lingual chorus. Alright. Whatever. Falla! I know there’s a lot of testing the waters going on, a lot of feedback to process. But my hopes are these: that Trecartin doesn’t flame-out, unable to withstand the mania, and instead turns his satirical switchblades towards politics, corruption, the bourgeoisie; that Haris Epaminonda creates an “Excavation”; that Elad Lassry goes Warholian large-scale. And that 3 years from now – “The Generational” is billed as a “Triennial” – more of the kids go for broke and stock so much dynamite in the New Museum that we won’t be able to walk through the show without our eyes, our minds, our beating fucking hearts exploding!