In 1971, the artist John Baldessari made a video in which he assumed all kinds of Vogue-ing-like poses and repeated the phrase, "I am making art" over and over and over. The video was part gag, part conceptual work -- riffing on the idea that it's art if the artist says it's art, but also parodying the silly self-consciousness that can saturate the art world.
Well, get ready to get saturated. The New Museum has just unveiled the second iteration of its triennial, titled The Ungovernables, which features the work of artists who were born between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s. The museum has brought these myriad figures together -- from countries as disparate as Vietnam, Argentina and Lebanon -- under a theme that is supposed to be all about a generation that has come of age in the post-colonial, increasingly globalist '80s and '90s.
As a theme, it's a bit of a hot mess (as curator Eungie Joo acknowledges in the catalogue essay, it's damn near impossible to peg what a generation is about while they're "in formation"). But what unites much of the work in the show is the hyper-conceptual language of the work. You can practically hear the artists saying, "I am making art. I am making art." Or at the very least, "I am taking some stuff I found and recontextualizing it within the glaring white walls of a mainstream arts institution."
Though it speaks the international language of art school, the show is nonetheless worthwhile. For one, there's the variety of work. (Kudos to the curators for including a broad array of artists from outside the Bermuda Art Triangle of London, New York and Berlin). And, two, there are some genuinely interesting pieces -- towering sculptures made of clay, videos about destruction, and the pages of a found diary. Here are the must-sees:
- Jonathas de Andrade, Ressaca Tropical (Tropical Hangover), 2009, on the fifth floor: The artist takes entries from a discarded diary written primarily in the 1970s and juxtaposes them with images of his hometown of Recife, in Brazil. For the voyeur, the piece is a wonder to behold: mundane entries that document romantic encounters and trouble with the boss surround the occasional deep thought about the nature of freedom (in a bit about Papillon) or reflections on communism (the diary's author found it anti-human) -- all of it, written against the backdrop of the brutal Brazilian dictatorship of the 1970s, which never rears its head in the entries. The piece is a stark record of human ambivalence and contradiction.
- Adrián Villar Rojas, A Person Loved Me, 2012, on the fourth floor: Part crash-landed spaceship, part Mayan ruin, Villar's monumental clay sculpture takes us to a retro-future of ossified technology. It's dank and earthy smell makes it feel appropriately graveyard. Double whoa.
- Cinthia Marcelle and Tiago Mata Machado, O Século [The Century], 2011, third floor: A nine-minute video shows an overview of an empty street that is slowly filled with flying detritus: plastic hard hats, milk crates, smashed neon tubes, breaking glass and smoke. The viewer never sees who is doing the breaking. A visual poem to the act of destruction.
- Hassan Khan, JEWEL, 2010, second floor: Two men dressed in street clothes dance to a thumping mix of Shaabi music (Khan is also a composer), which mixes traditional instrumentation with electronica. Set in a grey room, the men clearly aren't professional dancers, moving in awkward ways and making rather un-dancer-like gestures. But there's something charming and mysterious about their crude movements and the music couldn't be more beguiling.
- The Propeller Group, TVC Communism, 2011, third floor: Though it's overwrought in its installation, this twisted piece of video work by a collective based in Vietnam definitely deserves an honorable mention. The premise: the group got an advertising agency to do a new branding campaign for communism. The piece consists of a giant video screen circle that shows the brainstorming process (with white board!), but the real deal is the commercial the team created, off to one side, which comes complete with treacly music, Olympics-style logo and slogan that goes, "This is the new communism. Everyone's welcome."
The Ungovernables opens on Wednesday at the New Museum.