Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Younger than Jesus" at the New Museum

I wondered as I took the subway from the Upper West Side to the Bowery's New Museum if I would relate to the art at its "Younger than Jesus" show, which features works from 50 artists from 25 countries who are younger than 33, the age at which Jesus died.

As someone older than Jesus at his demise, would I appreciate the cultural and historical references of artists all born after 1976? Would I even care about what they were saying? Would the art in this exhibition, the first of the museum's to explore such a generational exploration, "transcend" its temporal framework?

As the Beatles said, yeah, yeah, and yeah. Without question, this crop of artists is asking relevant questions about identity, society, and how we got to be where we are in this moment in time, as other artists who came before them have asked of their moments.

There were works about power, AIDS, insane consumerism, destroyed environments, family dynamics, truth and illusion in images, life's meaning and life's sensations, among other important ideas.

Generally, photographs, videos, technology, site installations--and very few paintings--expressed these themes. Many works were actually quite disturbing, such as mutant cyborgs seemingly emanating from a global warming Armageddon, or screeching youngsters engaged in hateful acts in videos, or a drugged model sleeping in a bed under a white comforter while viewers observed. That's okay. Sometimes you have to scream, even silently, to be heard.

Three somewhat more reserved artists, however, resonated with me. Ahmet Ogut's staged photographs that seemed "real" provoked the proverbial question about whether we can trust what we see, especially now when we are bombarded by so many images. His pictures all seemed perfectly plausible--a woman delivering Turkish tea on a bicycle (see photograph upper left); young students without socks in a gymnasium with a loner sitting by himself; someone carrying lots of gear on a skateboard; and two girls walking in the cold and connected by a scarf. But they were completely artificial.

Liu Chang's three site installations of possessions he bought from three people ask how what we carry and wear may determine who we are. (Right.) Akin to traditional portrait paintings that depict the accoutrements of a person's profession, Liu's displays of clothing, cosmetics and cell phones reveal three people at a particular moment, maybe even their last, in time.

Finally, approximately 40 drawings made by artist Katerina Seda's grandmother two years before the elder woman's death were extremely moving. Seda pushed her grandmother to draw pictures everyday of objects (left) she could remember from the housewares store where she had worked before retiring. The older woman had been depressed and Seda hoped drawing would help her overcome a sense that her life hadn't mattered.

Vanity of vanites, all is vanity. What meaning is there for any of us? And do the experiences that define a generation, such as AIDS or the Berlin Wall coming down, make the people who lived through that time see themselves as different or related to history before and after them.

"Younger that Jesus," which runs until July 5, 2009 gives a range of answers to those questions.

(Images courtesy the New Museum.)


  1. I have never been to New Museum and I am not sure that that I could relate to the works there although I fit in the age category. Based on what your visit, is there a revival of traditional media or still mixed-media dominated the show? Nice blog!

  2. Mostly it is mixed media, site installations, video and the use of technology...There is very little traditional painting and drawing, which is a little bit disappointing for me.