Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reflections on "Younger Than Jesus"

The Generational: Younger Than Jesus
New Museum
235 Bowery, New York
4/8/09 - 7/5/09


Younger Than Jesus is the first edition of The Generational, the New Museum’s new signature triennial. It includes work of fifty artists from twenty-five countries. The artists cannot be older than 33; none were born prior to 1976. The show is curated by Lauren Cornell, Massimiliano Gioni and Laura Hoptman.

The texts below are based on a number of comments I posted on the blog of a local magazine. Dates and times of their original postings are included, as are images found online.



Here's a show that begs to be loved. Anything less would be like kicking a puppy at its first sniff of art stardom. So I knew Jerry Saltz's carefully constructed persona - zeitgeist-er, confidante, ear to the ground, eye on the sparrow - would necessitate a thumbs-up review of this show and on the inauguration of the Nu Mu's ambitious triennial project. Even if he has to hedge his bets with phrases like "flawed but tantalizing" and "despite its clinical spaces and a couple of misfires". Even if he includes a polemical, cautionary first paragraph that states the problem - "received ideas about appropriation, conceptualism, and institutional critique...a cool school, admired by jargon-wielding academics who write barely readable rhetoric" - and then pretends the Nu Mu is the solution to this problem rather than one of its prime exemplars.

Just saw the show today (two days after the press opening). My first (admittedly cursory) impression was of an inert busyness on the second and third floors - the fourth was airier - and a humorless fustiness throughout. This was partly due to the installation - here the curators must assume full blame for an aurally and visually confusing hodgepodge - but also to some of the work itself, which often feels dutifully referential yet only partially formed, surer of its antecedents and of hitting the right art historical talking points than of formulating a fresh or original statement. Artists whose work I have previously admired, like Cory Arcangel and Matt Keegan, look anemic and derivative in Younger Than Jesus. Poor Keegan: does he not realize David Robbins made "Talent" 23 years ago? Dineo Seshee Bopape seems to be filtering Kalup Linzy's antics through the institutional critique of Marcel Broodthaers, but to what end? Ryan Trecartin's helium-chuffing motor mouths, ensconced in the detritus of a two room thrift store, just seem to be trying too hard.

Saltz saves his praise for work with gimmicky performance parameters - Chu Yun and Liz Glynn - but I do agree with him on Cyprien Gaillard's amazing thirty minute video, set among the crumbling, brutalist facades of Eastern Europe's postwar residential tower blocks: mass action orchestrated with a vengeance, solemn heroics and a sense of foreboding majesty, backed by the haunting dirge of Koudlam's electro-operatic score.

04/09/2009 at 9:59 pm


Cyprien Gaillard, still from Desniansky Raion

addenda/errata

Bopape: Interesting intimations of the "other", of cargo cult collage (similar to the cross cultural throw-ups M.I.A. executes in pop music), where unusual juxtapositions of objects can synthesize new context and meaning.

Glynn: The notion that Rome CAN be built in a day (or even twice in a day) and then quickly reduced to cardboard rubble is cute visual slapstick, a contradiction of the old platitude. I don't join Saltz in finding it that "exciting". But I do like the photo documentation and banners on the backing wall.

Missed the Keren Cytter video. Must go back for that and for a full viewing of Gaillard. Also for the acousti-guide.


Keren Cytter

Few people I have queried find the title Younger Than Jesus anything but pretentious folly and sensationalist borrowed interest. It is confusing and misleading. The show has nothing to do with organized religion, nor with Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. In Roman times, the average lifespan was much shorter: about 45-50 years. Jesus did not die a young man. By the standards of his day, he was middle aged.

Whatever. Since tomorrow is Good Friday, it might be an appropriate moment to reflect on a show that seems hung up with Jesus, even if for all the wrong reasons.

04/09/2009 at 11:51 pm


Ryan Trecartin

A lot of this show is DOA. Its ageist agenda does not locate a generational zeitgeist, it just reveals unfortunate careerism and imitativeness in the youngest tier of artists. Which is kind of heartbreaking, to see so much art where the antecedents are cloyingly obvious. This is not a harbinger of new freedom going forward, merely an indication of clever students who have learned their lessons well. A lot of the work smacks of "art for teacher" by recent MFA grads.

Also, note the many the New Museum banner ads for Younger Than Jesus. While editorial and advertising should be kept quite separate, and there is no indication that NY Magazine is confusing the two, can you imagine this sort of ad commitment running opposite a negative review by Saltz?

04/10/2009 at 9:21 am


Mohamed Bourouissa

@ Hayward:

>>The fresh and young are immune to this older, more experienced generation's influence and are likely not to act as an obstacle.<<

Not really. The young have always cavorted for the pleasure of their elders. So it is in show biz, in the art world, even in the 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. It is nothing new to heed the judgment of rich and powerful patrons, to learn how to please them. Only the strong, pliable and clever prosper. It is a deadly art of survival and advancement.

Also: Lauren Cornell, who Rhizomed her way into an Adjunct Curator post at the New Museum, is of similar age to some of the artists in YTJ. As is Massimiliano Gioni. Do they represent a peer group affirmation for the pool of artists? Or are they playing the same game of pleasing their elders?

>>Can we convince these organizations to shuffle things a bit and get some younger meat to lend their perspective, I wonder how that would go over with everyone.<<

Good luck getting the curators to give up their hard won perks, their power and privilege, to younger "meat".

04/10/2009 at 9:56 am


Wojciech Bąkowski

To paraphrase NYCPrivateCollector, YTJ is "primarily a testament to its curators wishful desire" to assert their importance and control the discourse. It is a career move, a power grab. Hence the sensationalist title and the obvious institutional challenge to the Whitney, a Nu Mu "Generational" triennial to outflank the hipness of the established Biennial.

But rather than feeling like a breath of fresh air, what we note is the familiar parade of art world mandarins jealously staking out claims and waiting to see who blinks first. Returning to the Nu Mu on Easter, the significance of "Jesus" in the title became clear: as an icon of resurrection, Whitney Lite on the Bowery, even the off kilter block architecture suggesting the inverted Breuer ziggurat uptown. There's nothing wrong with the Whitney, but for the Nu Mu to suggest it represents a significant alternative is hogwash. They are just elbowing their way to the art world poker table and claiming a seat. Fly the curators to various European and Asian biennials and art fairs and they will bring back some of the buzz for exhibition here.

It's not unexpected that a "new" institution with "younger" pretensions wants to be seen as an agent of change. But critics who claim to see a zeitgeist shift in YTJ are merely being lazy and acquiescent, executing their own deft career moves while flirting with power. Once you get beyond the advocacy of certain trendy curators and critics, who seem to pick artists for how well they will look "wearing" them, there is some interesting and original work at YTJ scattered among the more "correct" choices. I will list them for later consideration: Cyprien Gaillard, Tris Vonna-Michell, Wojciech Bąkowski, Keren Cytter, Jakub Julian Ziolkowski, Mohamed Bourouissa.

04/13/2009 at 5:20 am

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