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Last Exit Magazine « Meet the New Boss

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[published: April 15, 2009]

Meet the New Boss

Youth rises again in The Generational: Younger than Jesus at the New Museum

In The Generational: Younger than Jesus, the inaugural exhibition of its new triennial, the New Museum hopes to play apostle in documenting an imminent revolution in art history, chronicling the good work of its new prophets. With an eyebrow-raiser of a title, the exhibition presents the work of 50 artists, all younger than 33 (Jesus’ age at crucifixion), all members of the so-called Millennial Generation. First, allow me to join the legion of bloggers in agreeing that this is the Worst Exhibition Title Ever. Distasteful, borderline offensive, and cliché in its romanticism of martyred youth. However, the real crime is that it is really uncool. When mounting an exhibition whose subject is the young and hip, a contrivance so square as Younger than Jesus elicits the same cringing embarrassment as the toupeed boomer, posting ironic YouTube clips on your Facebook page. In the immortal words of the Fresh Prince, esteemed prophet of the Millennial generation, “To you, all the kids, all across the land, there’s no need to argue, parents just don’t understand.”

Actually, that the curatorial construct is so uncool, so out of touch and so wrong, seems fitting in a show about generational divide and identity. After all, such is the definitive concept of generational markers – that our parents just don’t get us. Even more beguiling (or as testament to the low expectations such a title engenders) is that in a miracle beyond fishes and loaves, Younger than Jesus is actually a good show. Standout pieces by Kitty Kraus, Tris Vonna-Michell, Ryan Trecartin and James Richards manage to belie the absurd context of the exhibition in a fitting demonstration of youth’s timeless ability to flip the bird at the institution, and transform contrivance into real meaning.

The focus of the show is two-fold: Youth and the Younger Generation. The first, the production of gifted youths, is a topic so belabored as to be inane. Curator Laura Hoptman predicates the exhibition on the obvious fact that many of the greatest works of art were produced by artists younger than 30. So, ostensibly, by focusing their new triennial on artists in their twenties, we might perhaps discover the next masterwork of a Jasper Johns or Pablo Picasso. Yet, given the make-up of recent Whitney Biennials and the dominance of the MFA system in the art market, the assertion of the necessity for a show on this demographic seems absurd. Further, the genius of youth and the transience of youthful production are not much of a curatorial hard sell either. Gordan Matta-Clark, Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Eva Hesse, Caravaggio—there is no shortage of young geniuses, nor martyred youths in the art world. Give me a triennial of forgotten mid-career, artists struggling with anonymity, distended waistlines, dysfunctional sex organs, and the fleeting possibilities of making lasting and relevant humanist works before death, and then I might tip my hat to the new revolution. Otherwise, to focus on the inspired genius of the young, gifted and beautiful feels like “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The second topic, generational identity, is far more intriguing. Younger than Jesus seeks to explore what ideas, interests, and subjects ally the Millennials, but more broadly asks if the construct of generation itself is even still relevant. Though sprawling and fractious in both its years and politics, there is a shared acceptance of the definition, existence and identity of the Baby Boomers. In contrast, an Internet search on the Millienial generation provides no such accord. Neither agreed years, nor even a shared name. Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, iGeneration, Me Generation. It’s generation identity crisis, and with nearly 50% of the worlds population belonging to the Millennial, it is possible that generational identity, like nationalism, eroded under the shifting currents of globalism and the world demographic.

Notwithstanding, walking through Younger than Jesus, a clear sense of a shared identity does develop, epitomized by AIDS 3-D’s OMG Obelisk. The black minimalist and monolithic totem, flanked by torches, is alit with the ever-present text-messaging acronym: OMG. Oh my God. There is no doubt that technology is the origin story, tribal counsel and god-force for the generation that never knew a world without the personal computer. Even the uses of archaic technologies in the exhibition, such as the turntables in Icaro Zorbar’s Golden Triangle or the tape decks in Vonna-Michell’s No More Racing in Circles, Just Pacing within the lines of a Rectangle, come not from nostalgia, but from the technophile’s innate understanding of the specific value and aesthetic of particular technologies, and as an assertion against their obsolescence.

Overall, it is savvy work that feels novel, but I found no signs of revolution within the innovation. No radical ideas or forms. No seismic generational shift. To the contrary, many familiar ideas and artworks of the past are recycled and remediated in the new work. Cory Arcangel’s mural-sized abstract color c-print Photoshop CS: 110 by 72 inches, 300 dpi, RGB, square pixels, default. gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1416 x=1000, mouse up y=208 x=42 is Lawrence Wiener via Photoshop; Chu Yun This is XX is Cornelia Parker and Tilda Swinton’s Maybe outsourced and doped on Ambien; and Kitty Krauss’ Untitled invokes the Euclidian geometry of Robert Morris’ mirror cubes, plotted into the fractal dimension. This is not to say these are not vibrant and interesting works, they are, but it is to say that it is a critical mark of this generation that the images, media, methods and works of the past generation are the subject matter for the new.

New media theorist Lev Manovich sees this process of recycling, or ‘remediation’, as central to the new generation. In The Language of New Media, he notes that “the new avant-garde is no longer concerned with seeing or representing the world in new ways but rather with accessing and using in new ways previously accumulated media.” As both born consumers and the inheritors of such a vast amount of media, imagery and objects, the Millennial Generation inherits the role of archivist as much as artist. Raised on technology, the Millenials know that obsolescence is the new death. So, to protect ideas from obsolescence, as with technology, they must be invoked and transferred, before their original format becomes so outdated that the material is lost forever, e.g. LP to tape to CD to minidisk to Mp3. This continual transference keeps the material and ideas of past generation vibrant, alive, present, and forever young. So then, it’s a fitting irony of Younger than Jesus that although youth is the driving force of obsolescence, the focus of this generation is on its denial. What this says about Jesus, I don’t know. However, writing this on Easter weekend, it seems apropos to note that three years hence when the next triennial will open, most of the artists in this show will no longer be Younger than Jesus. Yet, though they will not be able to stave off their own crucifixion, or the death of their youth, given their bent to archive, preserve and reanimate ideas of the past, resurrection is only ever right outside the cave.

Cynthia Daignault is an independent artist, writer and curator, living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is the associate director of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation and a researcher on the forthcoming Robert Motherwell Catalogue Raisonne. Additionally, she works with a number of prominent artists’ studios to design database technology to archive their inventory and documentation. Her paintings have been the subjects of recent exhibitions at Plane Space Gallery, NY and Glenn Horowitz, East Hampton, NY. . Her last review for Last Exit looked at recent work by Justin Lieberman and Johan Grimonprez.

Copyright Last Exit 2009


Reader Comments [3]

  1. 1.  

    This article is so smart and well-written. Make Daignault the house art critic if she’s isn’t already!

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