Monday, May 4, 2009

The Generational: Younger Than Jesus @New Museum

JTF (just the facts): A sprawling group exhibit of recent contemporary art from a total of 50 different artists (all under the age of 33), in a variety of mediums, spread across the three floors of the museum. Eleven artists using photography (very broadly defined) have been included (the number of images on view in parentheses):

Cory Arcangel (1)
Tauba Auerbach (2)
Mohamed Bourouissa (3)
Cao Fei (6)
Mariechen Danz (1)
Haris Epaminonda (8)
LaToya Ruby Frazier (5)
Shilpa Gupta (1)
Matt Keegan (grid of 23)
Elad Lassry (9)
Ahmet Öğüt (4)

Comments/Context: Whether due to its catchy title, its biennial-type organization, or its focus on the art of a younger generation, this survey show at the New Museum has gotten a lot of buzz, complete with the resulting coverage by all the major media outlets (many of which are linked below). Regular readers here will know that we are focused on photography, and so our aim in visiting this exhibit was to see what kind of photography being made by artists born around 1980 is getting all the attention. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the work we found most promising.

What comes through time and again in this show, regardless of the artist’s chosen medium, is that this generation is very comfortable with media and technology, having been saturated with imagery and consumer choice their entire lives via the Internet, pop culture, and the multi-ethnic world around them. It is within this ever shifting environment that this cohort has been forced to find meaning, to grapple with finding individual identities in the overwhelming sea of information. For many, this has meant a search inward; for others, a focus on the evolving connections of personal and social networks enabled by technology. As a result, this show of new art is busy with combinations and mashups: cacophonous sound and light, video and paint, both behind and in front of the camera. The mixing here seems altogether natural and authentic, not a fussy conceptual overlay designed to impress.

Mohamed Bourouissa’s powerful color pictures of life in the Paris banlieues are the stand out images for me in this show (installation shot below). They depict the real friction of the mixing cultures and the simmering underlying disaffection in a quasi-documentary (staged) framework, heightened for emotional effect.


The works of Tauba Auerbach (below, top) and Cory Arcangel (below, bottom) both dive deeper into computer and display technology, exploring the edges of how image making can happen armed with these new tools. Auerbach’s pictures are made up of the abstract rainbow hues of pixelated static. Arcangel’s image was made entirely inside Photoshop, with soft gradients of rich abstract color, complete with instructions for reproducing the image in the title. These works signal a splinter direction emerging in photography, where the bleeding edge effects of the technology drive the process, rather than traditional subject matter. We should expect to see more work along these lines in the coming years, as the full boundaries of image making get extended (maybe it isn’t even “photography” anymore), perhaps taking us back to the ideas of the color field painters or abstract expressionists, only in a wholly new format and texture.




Cao Fei’s images of teenagers engaged in cosplay (dressing up in elaborate costumes derived from Japanese manga or virtual immersive environments, below) at first seem overly obvious and careful; we’ve seen plenty of pictures of cleverly staged people in costumes across the history of photography. But after standing in front of them for a while, I started to see more of the misunderstood melancholy, the search for some kind of distinctiveness of spirit against a raging tide of uniformity/conformity. We’re already seeing transformations in our culture in how we develop and maintain “identities” out on the Internet; these pictures are evidence of how the impact of these identities is clashing with the mundane of the everyday.


Finally, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s black and white portraits (below, shown in a very dark room) show that the old techniques still have relevance for a new generation. Her works explore the relationships of her family, with all of its tensions and inter-generational dynamics. They show that new work can indeed be made that addresses the issues of the present, while still relating to the traditions of the past (rather than abandoning them).


The rest of the photography in this show was less inspiring from my point of view; perhaps I just wasn't moved by the issues it was grappling with. Overall, while there is plenty of visual and audio stimulation in these galleries, the photography is a mixed bag, with a handful of solid bodies of work hiding amidst all the flashing lights, video clips and sampled sounds.

Collector’s POV: While none of the works in this show fits our collection, I came away quite impressed by several of the photographers who are included in this exhibit, particularly Mohamed Bourouissa. More generally, it was good to get a view into new directions that photography may take in the coming years, driven by this younger generation. Nearly all of these artists here have artist websites and some have gallery representation. There is also a large phone book style resource guide for all of the artists, and many, many more who were not included, complete with thumbnail images and contact information, for those who want to follow up.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Print reviews: NY Times (here), New Yorker (here), New York (here) Village Voice (here)
  • Online reviews: Art Fag City (here), C-Monster (here), Bloomberg (here)
  • Mohamed BourouissaGalerie Les Filles du Calvaire (here)
  • Tauba Auerbach’s website (here) and at Deitch (here)
  • Cory Arcangel’s website (here)
  • Cao Fei’s website (here)
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier’s website (here)

The Generational: Younger Than Jesus
Through June 14th

The New Museum
235 Bowery Street
New York, NY 10002

4 comments:

rcoda said...

Yawn...

dlkcollection said...

While a one word comment usually doesn't merit a continuation of the conversation, I think there is something here worth discussing a bit further.

Many of us have been trained in our business lives to pick apart projects, to dissect them down to their component parts, looking for weaknesses and areas for improvement. If we take this rigorously analytical approach to art (or photography in this case), we can find soft spots not only in emerging artists but among the hall of fame masters.

What I have come to find over the years is that while this kind of analysis is relatively straightforward, a far harder task is to consider "what can go right", where is there a nugget of a good idea that might turn into something more, where is there a vector worth pursuing that might go somewhere of interest, especially when applied to opportunities that aren't yet fully formed. Sure, many of these won't pan out in the end. But in this case, we are looking for subtle patterns of activity that indicate that an artist is "on the right track", even if the current output fails to excite.

So on one hand I get the "yawn" as applied to this show; some of the work on view is certainly less than inspiring. And yet, I think there are some photographers included here who may indeed be on the way to somewhere worthwhile, and these are the ones that merit our attention and patience.

rcoda said...

Point taken, BUT, most of the "MFA"-type stuff I have seen (read "emerging artist" or "under-33" - whatever you want to call it) is, well... Boring. Monotonous. Repetitive. Uninspiring. It's kind of like what happened to music in the 1980s. All of the sudden it all started sounding the same. Funny how almost none of these artists were even alive then, or too young to remember. Unfortunately, they haven't had the privilege of living during one of those periods yet. Maybe that is the logical progression after a period of great artistic production (key word is "great", meaning beyond good), although this has been going on for a very long time. Hopefully we are due for a "nostalgic" return to classic values in art.

The problem, as I see it, is that political agendas mixed with art result in mediocre art. Just as politics and religion don't mix, neither does art and politics. I guess politics don't go with anything, except politicians.

As you can probably tell, I am a traditionalist when it comes to photography, and many other things. There are a LOT of us out there and we see our art, our "craft", being democratized and reduced to the "nothingness" that we see plastered all over these "emerging artists" statements. The days of making statements are over. Make great art instead and it will speak for itself.

dlkcollection said...

Well, there's a lot to discuss in that comment, so I'll try to focus my thoughts on just a few of the topics covered:

1.) I think that art with a political bent or agenda can indeed be plenty thought provoking and worthwhile; not all of it is, as you point out, but I don't think stereotyping the whole bunch as unfit makes sense; it likely has a normal distribution of good and bad just like any other genre.

2.) There are perhaps just as many derivative and boring "traditional" photographs as there are derivative and boring contemporary ones. We've certainly seen plenty of less than inspiring Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Eliot Porter knock offs running around out there. I also tend to doubt that we will somehow return to "classic" values as you hypothesize. I actually think this period will lead to a flourishing of new avenues for photography, rather than a retrenching toward the old. There's no going back I'm afraid; the democratization and diversity of image making is a trend to be embraced not feared.

3.) While many photographers might associate "craft" with the Zone System or some other darkroom centric approach to print making, I think it would be short sighted not to appreciate the potential (and current) craft of Photoshop and digital imaging. While these tools may still be early in their maturation cycle, I expect we will see mastery of these tools produce plenty of exquisite art over time.