The New Museum of Contemporary Art debuts its new home

Strong building, weak show: "Unmonumental"

Some of the usual suspects flesh out this exhibition's droopy slacker vibe. There is Urs Fischer—fresh off his literal excavation of Gavin Brown's Enterprise—who tenders one of the few figurative works in "Unmonumental": a wax-and-wick sculpture of a nude woman melting away like a candle. There are the tabletop sculptures of John Bock, mysterious nothings made from, among other materials, plastic bottles, eggshells, colored string, and magazine clippings, pieces whose proliferating arrangements look astoundingly interchangeable. There are Gabriel Kuri's aluminum flags made from foil emergency blankets, mute gestures reaching for ready-made self-expression. And several faux sculptures by Rachel Harrison: These works by the doyenne of ugly sculptural riddles provide the precise puling note of self-congratulation that makes this exhibition so tiresome, and also such a swinging, clubby, curatorially correct scene.

Relief from this dull, trying show is found in only a few merciful instances. These come in two packages, the expected unexpected and the outright surprises. Among the former are Sarah Lucas and Jim Lambie, artists whose declarative brashness and sheer joyousness, respectively, genuinely transform other people's idea of garbage into spectacular art. For the latter, there are the sculptures of Shinique Smith and Marc André Robinson, two lesser-known assemblagists whose works engage visuality as much as the social and cultural implications of their found materials.

A droopy slacker vibe: Rachel Harrison's This Is Not an Artwork (foreground) and Martin Boyce's Our Love Is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours (background). More photos from the New Museum opening here.
Mollye Chudacoff
A droopy slacker vibe: Rachel Harrison's This Is Not an Artwork (foreground) and Martin Boyce's Our Love Is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours (background).
More photos from the New Museum opening here.

The words of the English philosopher J.L. Austen come to mind when considering a show like "Unmonumental": "Aesthetics should abjure the beautiful for a generation and concentrate on the dainty and the dumpy." Let it be noted that Austen never said anything about art being anywhere near this dull.

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