Art

MoMA P.S.1’s ‘Greater New York’ Deviates From Its Young-and-Hungry Ethos

by

What’s with New Yorkers and their short memories? Where I grew up (Washington, D.C.), folks act like the Continental Congress was last week and the right to bear arms still makes sense. Here in NYC, history happened this morning and get me more coffee already.

So perhaps only outsiders will be surprised that the four lead curators behind the fourth iteration of MoMA P.S.1’s “Greater New York,” the every-five-year survey of this city’s emerging artists, found it necessary to, as P.S.1’s Peter Eleey put it, “reflect on the structure of the exhibition, and the needs it has traditionally served.”

Reflect? Traditionally? The show started in 2000, people.

What we might infer from Eleey’s statement is a fact many of us already know: that the field of rigorous, exceptional, youngish artists (the field “Greater New York” serves) is thin — too sparse, perhaps, to fill a single exhibition at MoMA P.S.1 — even as an overabundance of derivative work sells briskly in the marketplace. And so perhaps to add a bit of context for the young’uns, and to give us something to chew on, half of the 158-artist pool of this “Greater New York” is over age 40, and many are well-known and by no means emerging. The team even invited Douglas Crimp, an actual middle-aged person who circulated in this city’s art world for much of his adult life and is now writing a memoir of that Arcadian era, to help curate.

What Eleey, Crimp, and the others have come up with is eclectic — and occasionally electric. When the flaws peek through, it’s generally when youngsters pale in comparison to their elders, though several of the under-40s are so good they would prove remarkable in any context. But, then, the over-40s aren’t exactly perfect, either.

What Eleey, Crimp, and the others have come up with is eclectic — and occasionally electric.

The show moves at a steady pace over the museum’s three floors. Probably the most arresting gallery is on the second floor in a massive sun-filled space. Here are almost twenty sculptures themed on the body, each with a distinct take on the most ancient of genres. We’ve got Tony Matelli’s hyperreal nudes, a man and a woman, literally turned on their heads (the upside-down figures force our brains to right them and for a few seconds make the world appear upside down); we’ve got Mary Beth Edelson’s castrating Shiva-cum–Lorena Bobbitt, made from a many-armed department store mannequin. Several works nod to race and class — Ignacio González-Lang’s KKK-shaped robe made from Latin American cloth, John Ahearn’s touching-verging-on-kitschy portrait of a mother and child embracing — and invite important conversations.

You’ll have to pass some of the weaker works on your way to better things. Seth Price’s too-cheeky-for-their-own-good inkjet-on-canvas paintings riffing on a 2004 wall calendar feel easy; their occasional installation in odd pockets throughout the building breeds annoyance rather than familiarity. Other pieces seem overproduced and under-thought-out, among them Eric Mack’s blanket-based wall sculptures and Jamian Juliano-Villani’s pastiche paintings. Many seem like symptoms of a culture that values production over reflection.

A can’t miss — truly, cannot miss — is Loretta Fahrenholz’s half-hour video Ditch Plains, a haunting look at race and inequality circa Hurricane Sandy. Members of the street dance Ringmasters Crew enact eerie choreography in apocalyptic settings — on nighttime city streets or in darkened hotel rooms — creating ghostly images of abandoned places and people. Other standouts: Alvin Baltrop’s elegiac black-and-white photographs of the gay scene on the Hudson River piers just as the AIDS epidemic closed in; Deana Lawson’s photo series of a prison inmate’s visits with his young partner and the couple’s children. In works like these, “Greater New York” proposes the not-very–New York notion that people matter more than product.

‘Greater New York’

MoMA P.S.1

22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City

718-784-2084, momaps1.org

Through March 7, 2016