"NYC 1993": The New Museum Takes Us Right Here, Right Then

Nontrivial pursuits, 1990s edition

So now we know: If Al Gore hadn't invented the Internet in the 1980s, the art world, circa 1993, would have spawned it instead. The New Museum's nostalgia trip "NYC 1993" surfs through five floors of primordial DIY video epics, outré sex, and self-absorbed bloviating of the sort that, two decades later, are a mere click away. A well-wrought exhibition of uneven quality—the curators limited themselves to art made and exhibited in New York City that year—"NYC 1993" alternately energizes and enervates.

Begin on the fifth floor, where a televised, day-by-day timeline provides a Trivial Pursuit–style compendium of the year's events. Wired magazine debuts, as do Beavis and Butthead and the European Union; a baboon liver is transplanted into a human being; and the year's Whitney Biennial is characterized by class, race, gender, copious wall texts, and the controversial "I Can't Imagine Ever Wanting To Be White" admissions button. Via multiple screens, reacquaint yourself with old friends: Bill and Hil have moved into the White House, Joey Buttafuoco is doing time for the statutory rape of Amy Fisher, the Unabomber is mailing sinister packages, and an ever-more-bleached Michael Jackson is denying rumors of child molestation.

Less engaging are Lina Bertucci's bland photos of numerous art-world characters, many of whom (Charles Ray, Rudolf Stingel, John Currin) remain on the scene today. One floor below, Zoe Leonard explores sexual politics with her unnervingly lovely photos of such oddities as a splayed-open anatomical dummy. The AIDS crisis was entering its second decade, and the wax model represented, Leonard stated, "an object of horror and desire at the same time."

Oh, it's this again.
Charles Ray, Family Romance, 1992–93
Oh, it's this again.


'NYC 1993'
The New Museum235 Bowery212-219-1222, newmuseum.orgThrough May 26

Other works on the fourth floor exude an elegiac grandeur. Robert Gober's Prison Window looms inaccessibly high on one wall, while a string of naked lightbulbs, by Félix González-Torres (1957–96), who worked for many years after contracting AIDS, cascades from the ceiling. The lights cast a welcoming glow as they spread across Rudolf Stingel's plush orange carpet, which covers the entire floor. This pair of works implies impermanence—bulbs burn out, carpets get dirty and worn—but also offers comfort and hominess, the moods coalescing into numinous harmony.

The human body gets a vigorous workout on every floor. Charles Ray's lovingly detailed realist sculpture Family Romance features the nuclear unit nude, anatomically correct, and holding hands—the adults scaled down and the two youngsters blown up to four and a half feet tall each. This Freudian free-for-all asks questions you really don't want answered. In the single-take, three-minute video Head, Cheryl Donegan slurps milky liquid gushing from a punctured green bottle to a cock-rock soundtrack, the overflow splattering her blue tank top as she spits the rest onto a pink wall, sending up salacious MTV gyrations and gooey porn tropes in one humorously feminist swoop.

There's little on view for painting buffs. Jutta Koether's layered figures and diagrams congeal into garish sludge; Kathe Burkhart's Turd, from "The Liz Taylor Series (Taming of the Shrew)," parodies nothing but itself; and John Currin's wan images of women in beds deliver none of his later work's prurient jolt. Across the room, however, Andres Serrano's morgue photos astonish by traversing the ineffable border between animate flesh and lifeless carcass—a pair of hands are crossed in Renaissance modesty, a desiccated foot lies atop a wrinkled body bag with Baroque solemnity. Like centuries-old paintings, these five-foot-wide color photos become visitations from an epoch when death was closer to hearth and home.

Now, step out of the Wayback Machine and jack into uMedulla™, the Google-engineered ganglia that will have been implanted in our heads sometime around 2093. We'll still be moved by Janine Antoni's exquisite self-portrait busts, fabricated from soap and chocolate, which she slowly deformed by lathering and licking. We'll still marvel at David Hammons's blithely brilliant sculptures, such as the empty hoodie, jutting from the wall, held open by wires—a ghostly evocation of heartbreak that resonates with the Trayvon Martin murder case today.

And we'll remain bored by Sean Landers's acres of hand-scrawled musings about the art world and his own tenuous place within it.

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How To Buy A Used Car

© 2012Alan Abel

I am appalled by the number of people who innocently buy used cars. Some select the shiniest ones. Yet none of these buyers can tell a carburetor from a piston.

The secret for buying a used car is to meet the previous owner. Ask to spend a night as their house guest.You’ll find out what he or she is like personally and soon know if you’re buying a lemon. For example, if you discover that the former owner wears raggedy underwear, such a person would ignore holes in the car’s radiator.

Recently, I considered buying a 1980 Plymouth at the bargain price of $299.The dealer was willing to throw in a set of dishes and an orange juice squeezer.I insisted on meeting the former owner and he agreed.

Mr. Fred Brower was a retired IRS agent and this is what I discovered after only twenty-four hours in his bungalow:

1.He was thirty pounds overweight, had curvature of the spine, a pot belly andhe walked bowlegged!His car was a perfect twin. The radiator bulged, wheels were out of line, and the tailpipe dragged noisily.

2.Mr. Brower served me canned meatballs for dinner, so I knew he bought the cheapest gas. This explained why the motor had a knock and the universal joint screeched like a sperm whale in heat.

3.One of his suspenders was ripped and patched with paper clips. The car’s fan belt was torn and held together by bobby pins.Mr. Brower had dirty fingernails. Sure enough the car’s spark plugs were caked with grime.

4.I purposely dropped a cigar ash on my host’s living room rug.He rubbed it into the moth-eaten rug. Naturally, his car’s upholstery was covered with cigarette burns.

5.Mr. Brower’s shoes were terribly run down. The car’s tires were worn to the tubes. He had glued fake rubber on them for the illusion of a recap job.

6.When I learned he hadn’t had his eyes examined in over two years, I checked out the auto’s headlights. Both bulbs were too dim to see anything at night.

7.Mr. Brower never wore socks.Nor were his brakes lined. In order to come to a dead stop, I had to use the emergency brake and shift quickly into reverse.

8.All the clocks in his house were twenty minutes slow. After drinking cheap wine he admitted he had turned back the odometer 20,000 miles..

9.His teeth hadn’t been cleaned in three years. The only time he ever washed his car was the day he drove to his mother’s funeral.When I confronted the used car dealer with all my evidence, he offered to sell me this jalopy for only $150. But without the dishes or orange juice squeezer. So the next time you see an ad that says, “Used car hardly ever driven by high fashion model,” I suggest you first spend a night with the owner.(abelalan2000@yahoo.com)

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