Unmonumental at the New Museum: Just Like Your Favorite Messy Friend's Place (A Review)

Looking at the New Museum of Contemporary Art's inaugural Unmonumental exhibition is like visiting the crash pad of a favorite friend, the one that's creative and stays up all night and leaves dirty dishes piled up in the sink and doesn't have any real furniture and what's in their place came from the stuff people threw out on the sidewalk. They've taken their broken mattress and stuck a fluorescent light tube through it and artfully stacked their laundry in a huge tower of bungee cords. They've scotch-taped xeroxed pictures of their friends on the wall, and they sleep elsewhere.

Sarah Lucas, now 45 (impossible! when did THAT happen?), seems almost too famous for Unmonumental, because I immediately connected her bed object with her name and established career. Isa Genzken, born in 1948 and the oldest artist, represents the core handmade aesthetic of the exhibit with Elefant, her assemblage made of cloth, vacuum tubes, plastic, and paper. The rest seems the work of youthful anonymous sprites amok and bored in the fairy kingdom and with no discernible sense of place. I have no problem with this. The modern world is filled with too much waste and cast-off beauty, and assemblage, as well as collage, encourages innovation and repurposed associations.

Unmonumental serves to show off the New Museum because the visitor needs to move in and around the spaces, looking up at the lights and down to the cracked concrete floor and past the sculptures to glance at the Bowery rooftops. Two-dimensional artwork would kill the intent, and I indeed wonder how they're going to pull off any future exhibit that could include works on paper or canvas. They've been so bold in stating that sculptural assemblage is the art of our time, so how will they frame, so to speak, work that is not of this genre? What of the contemporary painter who seeks more to life than just gallery sales?

For the time being, the New Museum's '70s love for democratically Pop, un-Genius Art, rough-edged punk-inspired hand-me-downs, and dare I say it, feminist-informed and modestly-tempered collage aesthetics is alright by me. They've made a new home on the Bowery, and they've decided to crash there, as oppose to invade. Good for them.

See related post: Mixing and Matching at the New Museum on the Bowery: A Review

(NEW 12/20/07: My response to Stanley Fish's blog post.)

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