As someone older than Jesus at his demise, would I appreciate the cultural and historical references of artists all born after 1976?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.
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.)