The New Museum wants to brand you. It wants you to buy a T-shirt or coffee mug splashed with the catchy name of its current show, "Younger than Jesus".
I am indeed younger than Jesus was before he was crucified, at age 33, but I'm not interested. It reminds me too much of the faux-hipster "Jesus is My Homeboy" shirts that were wildly popular a few years back, no doubt for their provocative mix of piety and slang.
Like most cunning retailers, the museum is selling youth. “Younger Than Jesus” features multimedia work by 50 artists from 25 countries, all of whom were born after 1976. The New Museum calls the show "The Generational", inaugurating a new triennial, to spotlight a group that "has yet to be described in any way beyond their habits of consumption."
The result is a similar mashup art of piety and pop exuberance. Stylish new techniques are used to address time-worn questions: what is the language (visual, technological, verbal) we use to interpret the world, and what is the narrative we tell ourselves? I particularly enjoyed the work "OMG"--a minimalist altar, with tall, black candles burning and the letters "OMG" in blue neon (standing for the TXT-friendly abbreviation of "Oh My God"). This work is good fun, a play on the sacred origins of the secular phrase, which evokes "Gossip Girl" more than anything divine.
Unsurprisingly, the show is disjointed. Little seems to unify this group of artists beyond their youth, and much of the work tries too hard to feel controversial but ends up feeling thin. The multiple floors of cheeky, shiny art are both colourfully transporting and giddily forgettable. Without my notes, I'd be hard-pressed to remember what I saw. Amid so much shellacked navel-gazing, there was little that resonated emotionally.
The strongest works cut through the self-protective irony. Ryan Trecartin's "Sibling Topics (Section A and Section B)" is a profound visual assault of gibberish videos and mounds of stuff, staged inside a candy-coloured plane. It made me feel so disconcerted that I found I had to leave the installation. Chu Yun's "This is Lacy" (pictured), featuring a drugged woman asleep on a white bed in the centre of the gallery, is remarkable. There is something inescapably sad about this woman, like a dream in which you are with people but alone, remote and unable to communicate. I felt like I was observing the lonely shell of a person, mindful of the moment when she will wake.
Nearby sits piles of clothing, part of Liu Chuang's installation "Buying Everything On You" (zhou shuping). The artist offered strangers money for all of their belongings, and the resulting collection of wallets, shoes, jackets and underwear tell the stories of their owners, but also prompt other connections: disaster, concentration camps, forced exile. The sight of these isolated belongings is oddly powerful.
But my favourite work was Cyprien Gaillard's video "Desniansky Raion", which stitched together footage of Russian fight clubs squaring off in St Petersburg, the demolition of a French building and the destruction of a Kiev apartment block. The 30-minute film inspires an ache for things destroyed and evokes a feeling of deep loneliness. Despite Gaillard's contemporary sensibility (he sets the videos to hypnotic electronic music by Koudlam), this narrative is much larger, encompassing the sweep of history. I sat mesmerised, a lump in my throat, my supposedly short attention span absorbing every minute of it.
~ ARIEL RAMCHANDANI
Picture Credit: clementine gallot (via Flickr)