Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Had a Monumental Seizure

The New Museum’s inaugurating exhibition of their shiny, new building, Unmonumental: An Exhibition in Four Parts, is like the recently pubescent fourteen-year old girl that wears far too many colors and accessories in an attempt to look cool and unique. Overcrowded and lacking cohesive organization, the assemblage-based sculptures and collages are purposely layered in an effort to challenge the viewer’s sensibilities. The addition of each element, sculpture, collage, sound, and an online “montage,” is planned to be added in a stagger throughout the exhibition’s run, so that the display is constantly in flux. A burst of creative intervention on the part of the curators, the plan doesn’t take into account that the majority of New Yorkers don’t have the time to revisit the museum four times in the span of two months. I’m tired of this type of quirky curating that is normally reserved for the desperate summer season. Unmonumental is a perfect example of when this technique weakens the art and the audience that it is supposed to serve.

The exhibition opened with the walls of the museum blank in an attempt to spotlight the architecture and structure of the building. Sculpture filled the floors, engulfing the white cube in a circus of disordered color. I didn’t see the exhibition until the walls were filled during the second phase and I can’t imagine that the space would have been visually interesting without the addition of the collages. The second and third floors cover the far walls of each with a single, expansive work, evening out the over-stimulation resulting from the sculpture. Mark Bradford’s multimedia Helter Skelter I and II (2007) combines a fast and furious collage with a Jackson Pollack-style continuous drip that results in an unexpectedly unobtrusive monument.

Following the same formula, Wangechi Mutu fashioned a site-specific installation on the far wall of the third floor, entitled Perhaps the Moon Will Save Us. Mounds of manila postage tape spill onto the floor as the lunar landscape while flying, furry pigs dot the night sky. When pigs fly, Mutu seems to be stating, is when we will be able to escape from ourselves. The center of the wall culminates in a collaged heap of minks, glitzy beads, foil coils, flaccid tubing, and a wig. The structure is a hyper-feminine growth that looks like what Eva Hesse would have made if she were a maximalist instead of a minimalist. Perhaps the most interesting work in the show, Mutu’s nightscape scene results in an elegance of both form and subject.

The third floor of the exhibition is the most visually cohesive, with Urs Fischer’s side by side untitled burning female candle and King Arthur-style sword in the stone sculpture set against the backdrop of Mutu’s installation. The fourth floor attempts to add a political voice to the show by featuring Sam Durant’s over-sized, activist mobile Hacer es la Mejor Manera de Decir (to do is the best way to speak) and chain-link enclosure For People Who Refuse to Knuckle Down. The impact of the two pieces is drowned by the mire of closely residing sculptures with over-powering visual elements, serving as a perfect example of what happens when a throng of complicated art is packed into a white cube.

Just like rummaging through a thrift store, one must page through a cluster of crap to find the treasures in Unmonumental. All three sculptures by Abraham Cruzvillegas are perfect examples of how mundane, discarded material can be composed into beautiful objects. Cánon enigmático a 108 voces (2005) consists of sea-bleached buoys clustered together in a hanging sea-grape like bunch. Simple, clean, and easy on the eye, Cruzvillegas reminds the viewer that purposely ugly art isn’t the only option available in the arte povera-influenced genre. The vast majority of the sculptures, however, makes one wonder why the art world is so amazingly unjust. Take John Bock’s untitled recyclable constructions, for instance. I’ve seen more creative junk-art in homeless people’s shopping cart-caravans.

The New Museum curators purport to have their collective finger on the pulse of contemporary art, making the gross insistence that the collage aesthetic is not only so hot right now, but that it is the direction of contemporary art as a whole. This simplistic, ballsy statement by the curators unnecessarily champions the New Museum as the savior of post-post modern indecisiveness. The preface to the catalogue states that the exhibition displays their commitment to not being, “too proper, too polite, or institutional.” Head curator Richard Flood adds in his introductory essay that, “our time demands the anti-masterpiece.” I thought we were already over the deconstruction fad, but I guess I was wrong. Maybe the curators should have just left the walls and the floor blank for their first exhibition, then we could have just appreciated the new building without the grandiose intentions. Hopefully the museum will grow out of its awkward, unreasonably confident adolescence and into the eloquently rambunctious youngster that we all envision it to be.

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