NYC 1993 at the New Museum, New York City.
On four floors, the New Museum in New York City attempted to show to its public what was made, exhibited, and thought in the artists’ creations in the city around 1993, under the global title NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.
Of course, it could not have started with an obvious reference to the Whitney Biennial of 1993, which is still considered as a major exhibition in the American arts history. Consequently, the exhibition does not start with visual or physical artworks, but with a iPod 45 minutes track prepared by Andrea Fraser for the Whitney Biennial of 1993, a piece entitled “Recorded tour,” accompanied with a floor plan of the Biennial. I listened almost entirely to the track, listening to the Biennial’s curators and Whitney’s director sentences on how the show was conceived, how the audience was invited to “train their eyes to get to know what is high-art.” And of course, Fraser repeatedly saying “please, proceed to the next gallery” every minute. No visual description at all, but a clear focus on the curator’s intentions, the relevance of the chosen artworks, and the “fabulous” aspect of the show, “you’re not at the MET!” said a male voice. Also, near the museum’s entrance, that day (May 25, 2013), Karen Finley’s performed painting creation inspired by the sextos she received – sounded better on the paper, in my mind at least.
But eventually, and rapidly, comes the time to confront your eyes with the quite amazing creation of NYC-based artists around 1993 – which represent 90% at least of the New Museum’s selection. The exhibition succeeds in representing the pop culture but edgy aesthetic of the era (bright colors, melancholy, tv culture, etc.), and evoking the several social issues happening (gender studies, AIDS, sexual violence and omnipresence, etc.). But, as the wall text says quite honestly (and nicely!), “this exhibition is not a definitive history of art in the 1990s.” I could not agree more. But is that why there appear to be no clear, conscious curatorial choices in the themes on each floor? There are surely bodies and sex everywhere, literally. But even if the artworks’ selection seems pertinent, and the explanations for each of them quite complete, the apparently obvious uniformity of the works, of the era, gets lost while the visitor wanders through the rooms, and the floors.
The ground floor’s gallery has the weakest selection; and I would admit that the artworks get “better,” or at least more compelling through your ascension in the floors. On the ground floor, the urban-looking Larry Clarck’s colorful skateboards and erotic photographs would look pale compared to what you’ll upstairs. On the second and third floors, many artworks blew my eyes, and my mind, especially concerning the artworks’ and artists’ process. Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone (1992) for instance, a 132 pounds ball made of modeling clay that he rolled through NYC streets to accumulate the dust and debris, was quite impressive and made me wonder on the artist’s effort to accumulate dirt, as a survey of an urban space. But also Glenn Ligon’s Red Portfolio series (1993), approaching the tense subject of censorship and sexual explicit imagery. The artists framed a simple description of a Robert Mapplethorpe’s photograph (“A photo of young pre-school girl with her genitals exposed.” e.g.), taken from a reverend’s list of “Photographs Too Vulgar To Print” addressed to the National Endowment for the Arts. Seeing yourself in the glass reflection makes it even more compelling… and disturbing. Janine Antoni’s fourteen self-portrait busts made either of soap or of chocolate (7 each), whose faces have been disfigured, or “re-sculptued” by the artists, either through licking (in the case of the chocolate), or washing (in the case of the soap). Her process transforms the busts from an Antique bust to a fragile, even intimate representation of herself.
But the most powerful works, and ensemble, has to be found on the fourth floor. No walls separate the gallery, and I found myself confronted with all my senses: smelling the odor of the orange-carpet made by Rudolf Stingel, contemplating Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s giant black-and-white photographic mural and famous light bulbs hanging string, and hearing Kristin Oppenheim’s beautiful track Sail on Sailor. This was the greatest experience of the exhibition, cold and warm, creepy and peaceful, reflective and contemplative. The space’s emptiness was emptied and filled with all the different artworks, and ended with Robert Gomer’s Prison Window, as a reminder of the pop culture but not frivolous spirit of the early 1990s era.
NYC 1993 was on view until May 26, 2013 (and I do not necessarily recommend the catalogue).