review of “Younger Than Jesus”

The New Museum’s exhibition “The Generational: Younger Than Jesus” collects young artists who have ostensibly nothing in common but their age.  The artists included in this exhibition differ in medium, style and theme.  However, the artists’ common generation binds them together more closely than it may seem.  The artists included in “Younger Than Jesus” came of age as the Berlin Wall collapsed, the AIDS crisis developed and globalization emerged. International in scope, the exhibition attempts no thematic unity.  Instead, as Jarrett Gregory writes in the exhibition’s introductory pamphlet, “questions of collaboration, identity, family, and technology are supremely relevant to these artists…Many choose to work from the first-person perspective, a gesture that not only asserts one’s singular identity, but necessarily acknowledges the rest of the world.”[1] The exhibition’s curators attempt to represent the diverse and different aesthetics which result from roughly three decades of political and economic prosperity and decline, evolution in communication and post-nationalism.  The curators, Lauren Cornell, Massimilliano Gioni and Laura Hoptman, seem to assert that these artists attempt to make sense of their historical moment through their unique individual perspective. However, as Brian Scholis explains in the catalogue’s introduction, the curators opted to emphasis these sociological factors rather than aesthetics or formal qualities. In doing so, the curators attempt to find a historicizing thread to bond the artists together, regardless of medium and despite Sholis’s observation that these artists are “still fashioning a historical identity for themselves.”[2]

Liz Glynn’s Building Rome in a Day (2008-2009) appropriately greets the viewer on the exhibition’s first floor.  With a team of collaborators, Glynn constructed a used cardboard model of Rome, therefore invoking a sense of history and tradition while simultaneously implying ephemerality.  Glynn and her collaborators then destroyed the meticulously detailed model, leaving just broken pieces of cardboard, bits of glue and other disposable materials on the floor of the museum’s lobby.  Viewers also see pictures of Glynn and her collaborators constructing the model, further emphasizing the distance between the destructed model’s present, and its past constructed incarnation.  This installation therefore sets a precedent for the exhibition. The installation stresses the difference and distance between previous generations and this one and simultaneously attempts to carve or cultivate a sense of identity in relationship with history.  Because the model was constructed and destroyed in a 24 hour period, Glynn seems to comment on the quick pace of the “Millennial Generation” in regards to previous generations, who did not have technologies such as the Internet of cell phones.  The destroyed model seems eerily quiet in contrast to the action filled photographs along the wall, evoking a sense of a memorial as the viewer walks around the ruins.  However, this sense of quiet is destroyed as the viewer is disturbed by Patricia Esquivias’s video installation video installation broadcasts a banal narrative across the corridor.  Esquivias’s video is obnoxious in its rambling chronicle, which is accompanyed by seemingly random family album photographs.  This perhaps comments on how history or national narrative can no longer be written from just one point of view; as Glynn constructs her historical installation, Esquivias’s effectively intervenes, destorting the silence in Building Rome in a Day.  However, Esquivias’s video is too banal, too personal to the artist and therefore remote from the viewer to be effective by itself.  Esquivias’s video, though it presents her identity as it was formed through social circumstance, does not resonate aesthetically with viewers, and is not in dialogue with the curators’ attempts at reconciling the sociological differences between the artists. 

Chu Yun’s This is XX (2006) speaks to both the alienation and percieved passivity of the “Millennial Generation.”  Yun’s installation is simply a white, fluffy bed with a sleeping (drugged) female inside.  Viewers are free to approach the female as they walk around the installation, watching her calmly sleeping and aloof of the surrounding strangers. This invokes a disturbing sense of voyeurism and danger in the viewer, who becomes aware that the sleeping female is susceptible to perversion or violence within such a public space.  In creating such a sensation, Yun evokes Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1965), in which the artist silently and passively allowed the audience to cut and remove pieces of her clothing.  Because Ono is conscious of the removing, however, it does suggest a certain activity that is completely absent in Yun’s installation.  Yun’s This is XX implies that the “Millennial Generation” is too tired of political upheaval, ambiguous national borders, technological advancement and identity politics to care anymore. The curators therefore make an effective reference to the difference between this generation of artists and others.  As curator Lauren Cornell writes in her catalogue essay, “New Age Thinking,” “the elusive state of relevance, in which art becomes worthy of attention, is informed by intergenerational tension…one that serves to push important concepts, histories, and positions into a larger conversation.”[3] Whereas Ono was still conscious, still awake to the world in her piece, Yun’s sleeping figure is exhausted from looking and experiencing, so she just falls asleep. 

 Haris Epaminonda’s Untitled 0012 (2007) evokes an active interest in history’s writing.  Epaminonda’s collages reorganize and reconfigure appropriated image within the context of a book’s pages.  Epaminonda incises and reforms various historical images on paper, therefore re-contextualizing the image’s meaning. Because books—from the Bible, the Koran to Enlightenment texts—have so informed our conception of history, configuring an assortment of images on its pages offers a poignant suggestion of how history and narratives are being revised in recent years.  Epaminonda seems to question what is history should include and whom it should belong to in this post-national age.  Epaminonda, who was born in Cyprus and educated in England, now lives and works in Berlin, and represents the many individuals who may not belong to any one specific nationality as they continually cross and blend the borders between nations.  Where do individuals such as Epaminonda fit into history? 

 As Cornell explains in her essay, “Younger Than Jesus” attempts to investigate sociological issues that have continually confronted the “Millennial Generation.” Cornell writes that the “exhibition glimpses a generation that is diverse, and deflects a rigid age-based determination by pulling a myriad of influences across history, territory, and art.”[4] Cornell, Gioni and Hoptman ambitiously attempt to compose a cohesive sampling of the range of styles, mediums and themes present in contemporary art.  However, the curators seem too interested in the sociological events that have informed and shaped the last three decades and less  attracted to the formal and aesthetic components that have emerged in recent years. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue read like a social science text; furthermore, the curators seem more interested in displaying diverse work together rather than allowing each work to stand alone on its inherent aesthetic qualities.  Many evocative works such as Yun’s This is XX are disturbed by the noise of a nearby video works just as Building Rome in a Day is by Esquivias’s piece. The exhibition’s representation of painting is unsuccessful, and one wonders where works such as Iraqi painter Ahmed Alsoudani’s are.  It seems arbitrary to exlude Alsoudani simply because he is thirty-four years old; Alsoudani’s works are informed by the same sociological factors and occurances as those of the artists included in the exhibtion.  Perhaps the curators were afraid of evoking Modernism’s interest in the painterly and materiality. The exhibition’s display of even successful works is poor, as the viewer’s experience of the work is disrupted by other works. “Younger Than Jesus” conjects several interesting paradoxes and questions regarding the “Millennial Generation” and their art.  The exhibition therefore succeeds in provoking the viewer to reasses the sociological issues that Cornell discusses in her essay.  However, the curators should have been more attentive to the formal and thematic qualities which are influenced by these issues rather than just the issues themselves.

 

 

 


[1] Jarrett Gregory “The Generational: Younger Than Jesus.” (New York: The New Museum, 2009.) n.p.

 

[2] Brian Scholis. “Introduction.” Younger Than Jesus: The Reader. (New York: The New Museum, 2009.) pp. 11.

[3] Lauren Cornell, “New Age Thinking.” Younger Than Jesus: The Reader. (New York: The New Museum, 2009.) pp. 19.

[4] Ibid, 20.

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