OMG it’s YTJ: A Triennial for the Millenials

“The Generational: Younger Than Jesus” features the work of 50 artists from 25 countries, all born after the year 1976.

poster for

"The Generational: Younger Than Jesus" Inaugural Triennial Exhibition

at The New Museum of Contemporary Art
in the Lower East Side area
This event has ended - (2009-04-08 - 2009-07-05)

In Reviews by Laura Meli 2009-04-09 print

“Jesus did his best work between the ages of birth and 33,” says Laura Hoptman, Senior Curator at the New Museum, with a laugh. With its stated mission to exhibit “new art and new ideas,” the museum is approaching the concept of the triennial from a different perspective. “The Generational: Younger Than Jesus,” features the work of 50 artists from 25 countries. They are all part of the generation known as Millenials, those born after 1976, who saw the dawn of the Internet, post their lives on Facebook, and Twitter their every thought.

The New Museum has a history of showing important artists at early stages of their careers, including Keith Haring and Jeff Koons; in this regard the concept makes sense. According to Massimiliano Gioni, Director of Special Exhibitions, “The idea of concentrating on this generation was because we were a bit tired of triennials and biennials that focused on geographical paradigms. We thought, ‘Let’s look at time instead of space.'” The artists in “YTJ” were selected through an international social and professional network of over 150 art world insiders. The curators of the show, Ms. Hoptman, Mr. Gioni, and Lauren Cornell, Executive Director of Rhizome and New Museum Adjunct Curator, gathered 500 names from this extended network. The short preparation time (one year) made the information sharing system indispensable, and allowed the team to research all of the artists with enough time for a few studio visits. While Ms. Hoptman acknowledges that the unique vetting process was in part the result of a tight budget and recession, she feels the use of this network was completely fitting for the exhibition.

Shilpa Gupta, ''Untitled,'' 2006. Photograph printed on Flex. Courtesy the New Museum.

The imprint of pop culture is found throughout the galleries, thanks to works such as Myspace Intro Playlist by Guthrie Lonergan, a compilation of appropriated video clips featuring youths introducing personal playlists, and Untitled (M), by Ida Ekblad, an abstract work based on the familiar double arches of a fast food chain. However, there are also works that defy easy labeling of this young generation. Throughout the exhibition, female volunteers will ingest sleeping pills and sleep through the “frantic pace of contemporary life” in Chu Yun’s This is XX. The piece “can be read as a counterpoint or protest to the stereotype of this generation as hyperactive and hyper aware.” The participant is rendered vulnerable, the viewer uncomfortable. Museumgoers will also see themes of obsolescence, the future, and cultural oppression in pieces like Shilpa Gupta’s Untitled photograph. The adage “Hear No Evil See No Evil” is depicted through the strategically placed hands of two youths, who refuse to actively involve themselves in some unseen horror, and yet, dressed in military uniforms, participate nonetheless.

AIDS-3D, ''OMG Obelisk,'' 2007. MDF, electroluminescent wire, steel, hot glue, acrylic paint and fire. Courtesy the New Museum.

Emre H√ľner looks for a new way to describe our future in the animated video Panoptikon. An alternate universe is created through the organic forms of Turkish textiles and images of science fiction. OMG Obelisk by the collective AIDS-3D looks like something from a modern day “Lord of the Flies.” A black totemic structure with the letters ‘OMG’ is flanked by blazing, spear-like poles; the piece is both tongue-in-cheek and a possible warning of impending doom. Kitty Kraus’s mirrored sculptures sit not far from OMG, glowing on the floor as if leaking radiation. Whereas in another setting they might be deemed subtle or delicate, with light from the seams bouncing off the mirrors, juxtaposed with OMG that fragile nature morphs into something more cryptic.

Haris Epaminonda, ''Untitled 0012 c/g,'' 2007. Collaged paper on paper. Courtesy the New Museum.

The re-imagined scenes in Haris Epaminonda’s collage series depict a false sense of calm. Historical tableaus and classical sculpture, seemingly untouched by postmodern chaos, are often violently attacked by “shards” of other cultures and far-off locales. Paintings by Jakub Julian Ziolkowski hint at surrealism, Francis Bacon, and modern-day horrors. Life is mutated, existing where it shouldn’t, capable of unseemly things. LaToya Ruby Frazier’s portraits of her family deal with complexities of womanhood. “It’s a self portrait, even though there’s three of us really we represent one. I’m one of the artists that is resisting the fact that technology has created a distance. People are so disillusioned, and there’s so much fantasy, you can always distract yourself from painful things, you can shop, you can get on MySpace, Facebook, anything to distract yourself from reality.”

LaToya Ruby Frazier, ''Me and Mom's Boyfriend Mr. Art,'' 2005. Gelatin silver print 20 x 24 in (51 x 61 cm). Courtesy the artist.

In a similar way, “YTJ” attempts to get behind the screen of this internet generation. “I was having a feeling of detachment from younger artists and so I felt it was important to bridge the gap…to understand what the preoccupations, desires, and interests of younger artists were,” said Mr. Gioni. “The urgency came from a sense of shift and change that was happening. But it’s not just a show about youth, it’s a show about a specific age group shaped by social events, technological transformations, global and cultural changes. We wanted to see if we could identify the greatest art of today and of tomorrow.” The exhibition does successfully examine the visual culture created by this generation, but capturing “the greatest art of today and tomorrow” is quite a lofty goal. Other than the generational similarity, there is no real thread connecting the work in this show, and at times the expected twenty-something (and early thirty-something) brashness is a bit obvious, but the vibrancy and energy of “YTJ” overrides these concerns.

Laura Meli

Laura Meli. With degrees in art history, the visual arts and arts administration, Laura works at ArtTable and is on the board of Underworld Productions Opera Ensemble. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their plants, hates when people block the door on the subway and always wishes she ordered what you ordered. » See other writings

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