Skip to main content

Present in an Age of Chaos: "The Ungovernables" at the New Museum

The day before the public opening of the New Museum's 2012 Triennial, the museum's second iteration of its generational survey of young artists, a water main broke a few blocks from the museum, gushing water onto the street and creating a lake that temporarily flooded the intersection of the Bowery and Delancey.

This literal rupture in the urban fabric halted the normal tidal flow of morning traffic, and it took workers a couple of hours to restore order. The unplanned breakdown and its accompanying visuals - workmen in hardhats tearing up the pavement, multiple police cars with flashing lights, and helicopters surveilling the scene overhead - seemed an appropriate backdrop for the work displayed by the young artists inside the museum. This is their new normal.

Living in an uncertain epoch that teeters toward wholesale breakdown in the social and political order, the artists and collectives in the appropriately titled The Ungovernables display an unwillingness to serve as passive creative interpreters of their unsettling time. In assembling this diverse global collection of under-35 artists and bringing many to New York for the first time, curator Eungie Joo highlights artists whose work involves impermanence, resistance, and a well-researched ideological grounding. Action-oriented interventionists, purposeful and serious, devoid of cynicism and snark, these artists and their good works demand and ultimately earn our full attention.

Adrián Villar Rojas, A Person Loved Me, 2012.

Over fifty artists are participating in the exhibition, counting the collectives, and not all are showing work within the confines of the museum or the time frame of the exhibition dates. Some are performances. Of the works within the New Museum, many are strong and complex enough at first appearance to invite more in-depth questions, certainly in line with the goal of the curator to engage in a dialogue.

An obvious place to begin would be with the sculpture of Adrián Villar Rojas, an Argentinean born in 1980. The floor-to-ceiling site-specific monument in clay, "A person loved me" (2012), appears like a wreckage from the future, a robotic artifact to be deciphered as a lesson for the human race. A similar work of his graced the most recent Venice Biennale. The title of the New Museum work suggests a complicated and indeed emotional relationship between this artifact and a mysterious human counterpart.

Amalia Pica. Eavesdropping (Version #2, large), 2011.
Partially seen in background: Danh Vo. WE THE PEOPLE, 2011.

Sharing the fourth floor space with the futuristic monument are a few pieces of shiny pounded copper by Danh Vo (b. Vietnam 1975; grew up in Denmark; resident of Berlin). While beautiful sculptural pieces on their own terms, these sections of "WE THE PEOPLE" (2011) are actually part of the artist's extraordinary project to replicate the entire thin copper surface of the Statue of Liberty at scale. The gigantic sculpture is imagined, not realized, interrupted by being kept apart in many sections. Thus, the work becomes a meditation on the symbol of liberty and what is surface and what is substance. Nearby, Amalia Pica (b. 1978, Neuquén Capital, Argentina. Lives and works in London) has glued colorful drinking glasses to the wall in an artful configuration for a piece titled "Eavesdropping.” The effective juxtaposition of the above-mentioned works, along with a couple of Mumbai-based Minam Apang's myth-inspired drawings, gives strength to the entire fourth floor.

Jonathas de Andrade's "Ressaca Tropical (Tropical Hangover)," 2009, a sequence of 101 photographs and 140 typewritten pages that wrap around the walls of the fifth floor, is based on a romantic diary dating to 1977 and discovered in a garbage pile. The setting is Recife, Brazil, a large business and industrial metropolis. Images suggest a city of utopian ambitions, with modernist architecture often at the mercy of the climate and tropical floods. As a counterpoint to the conventional images of the city displayed on the wall, ones that suggest only buildings and lack of human presence, the diary entries follow the life of an impulsively romantic and cinema-going city dweller. Our everyman serves as the means to construct a fiction of the city.

Mounira Al Solh. Bassam Ramwali, From waiting blue to lingering yellow (or vice versa), 2010-

Speaking of fictions, particularly intriguing is a set of drawings by Mounira Al Solh, an artist born in Beirut who continues to work there and in Amsterdam. While working as an established artist with gallery representation, Al Solh has constructed a fictional male alter ego for herself named Bassam Ramlawi. This alter ego maintains humble roots and close ties to Lebanese friends and relatives, trading drawings for services. By inventing this alternative self, the artist perpetuates a sense of home as a means to cope with self-criticism of her own status as a "cultural immigrant."

José Antonio Vega Macotela. Habemus Gasoline, 2008.
Partially seen on the right, Kemang Wa Lehulere. Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb 2, 2012.

Several other works are worthy of attention including "PrayWay, 2012," a partially folded prayer rug with blue neon lights underneath, by Slavs and Tatars (Founded 2006, Eurasia); a series of portrait paintings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b. 1977 London. Lives and works in London); and the monumental chalkboard drawings by Kemang Wa Lehulere (b. 1984 Cape Town. Lives and works in Johannesburg). Many of the works in the exhibition function as teaching moments, such as an installation by José Antonio Vega Macotela (b. 1980, México City. Lives and works in Amsterdam and México City) titled "Habemus Gasoline," 2008. Part science project, part art, the artist has set up an everyday tequila distillery to comment on the economic exploitation of Mexico's natural resources.

The exhibition includes several time-based media works. Jonathas de Andrade, the creator of the Recife piece, contributes an effective film originally shot in Super 8mm titled "4000 Disparos (4000 shots)." The presentation of speeded-up frame shots of the faces of anonymous men heightens awareness about the ephemeral nature of our everyday peripatetic experiences.

The depth and thoughtfulness of the artworks in The Ungovernables, coupled with a skewing of the demographics toward artists that represent the global future, establishes the exhibit as a refreshing and indeed hopeful statement on the ability of art to live up to the challenging present. These artists present well-researched work that demonstrates focus and engagement. They show a deep love and respect, even at times a homesickness, for the places they love. The artists at the New Museum, in fact, offer a counter argument to those who would characterize their generation as narcissists with short attention spans. Here, instead, we have old souls in young bodies, aware that they, like their art, will not live forever. They are prepared to do the world's work.
_____


The Ungovernables: 2012 New Museum Triennial
Opens February 15, 2012
Through April 22, 2012
The New Museum
235 Bowery

The museum has scheduled public programs in conjunction with the exhibition. For more information, please visit the museum’s website. While visiting the New Museum, be sure to also see the exhibition Head Gas, paintings and works on paper by Berlin-based artist Enrico David, next door at Studio 231.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. February 14, 2012.





Popular posts from this blog

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

A Morning Walk from Pandemic Station to Pandemic Square

Penn Station to Times Square
New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after. 

After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle. 

I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months. 

After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds. 

Yet, I had been here before. A long time ago, I road my bike a few times through Times Square at dawn on a Sunday morning in summertime, and just a few people were there. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I remember wandering around a brightly lit Times Square near sunset and then looking down the avenue to…

A Time of Soft Reopenings and Cautionary Travel

As the pandemic crisis lessens in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their reopenings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED August 3, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many places have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.

Openings     
Phase 3 began in NYC on July 6. Allowed: retail stores; personal care nail salons, massage, etc.; outdoor recreation; dog runs. NO indoor dining!
Phase 4 began in NYC on July 20. Stay outside! (Forward.ny.gov)
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

From Manhattan to the Bronx: A Walk Over the Henry Hudson Bridge to Henry Hudson Park

At the tiptop of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park offers picturesque views of the Hudson River. For one of the best views, follow the marker at Shorakkopoch Rock (see map at the end of the post), the legendary place where Peter Minuit was said to have bought the island for 60 guilders, and follow the ridge up the slope. The path leads gently higher and higher, with views of the Salt Marsh down below and then the underside of the Henry Hudson Bridge above. This spot along the ridge is well known among birders, as the height and the proximity to the Hudson River allow access to treetops and places where birds like to go. 

Keep going around the bend and past the bridge. A few spots of open pavement at the edge of the hill provide good views of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that carries train traffic to and from Penn Station. The bridge was recently upgraded. On the opposite shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, you’ll likely see Metro-North trains coming round the bend, either he…

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters.

As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk.



One such essay, "Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer, Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the advantag…

The Thin Man Walk: A New York Holiday Adventure with Nick and Nora Charles

(Revised)

Line up the cocktails. As Nick says, "You see the important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. A Manhattan you shake to foxtrot, a Bronx to two-step time. A dry martini you always shake to waltz time."

If ever a couple possessed complementary drinking rhythms, it would have to be Nick and Nora Charles, the much-envied glamorous cocktail-swilling quick-thinking duo of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man. Inspired by the writer's blossoming affair with playwright Lillian Hellman, the novel, published in January of 1934, motivated MGM to rush a cinematic adaptation into production.

The movie, released in late May of 1934, proved popular enough to spawn sequels, foremost because of the stellar chemistry and witty performances of William Powell as Nick and Myrna Loy as Nora. Decades later, many people still search for their own Nick or Nora. Beyond the playful banter, the partying Charleses exude a confident security and ease in their relations…