"Greater New York"
"Greater" New York? Not so much.
Mon May 31 2010
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
Whatever else you might say about this year's edition of "Greater New York," it's definitely the lesser of the three outings so far in this series of young-artist surveys, launched in 2000, which arrives every five years. Not that there aren't some interesting or provocative things here; it's just that the whole effort feels desultory and thrown together. The list of participants wasn't announced until six weeks before the opening, suggesting curatorial disorganization. Maybe it had something to do with the recent elevation of MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach to head honcho of P.S.1; perhaps he needed to put his stamp on the proceedings at the last minute. If so, I wouldn't rush to write home about the results if I were him. I mean, I know he's busy, what with squiring Lady Gaga around the Marina Abramovic retro, but the air of distraction definitely shows.
Speaking of Abramovic, she figured out a way to step up a shoestring-budget genre to the museum-level big league. A lot of the artists here share a like-minded DIY DNA, getting their start in the intimate confines of the Lower East Side gallery scene (especially, it would seem, at On Stellar Rays, which is cited with alarming frequency in the wall tags), yet many of them seem far from ready for prime time. Sharon Hayes's installation REVOLUTIONARY LOVE: I AM YOUR WORST FEAR, I AM YOUR BEST FANTASY is a good example. Taking up one of the biggest rooms in the building, the work consists of video documentation of large-scale public performances/demonstrations at the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. We see crowds shouting, signs being waved, the whole democracy in action, yadda yadda yadda, presented as a sort of after-the-prom hangover, with sad balloons filling the space and confetti littering the floor. I'm not sure what Hayes is getting at here (that political action is necessary or that it's ultimately toothless?), but her piece seems thin and unfocused.
If you are easily appalled, or just prone to saying eww, stay out of the hallway hung with Leigh Ledare's naked pictures of his mother. The backstory is that one Christmas, Ledare arrived home to find Mom, a 59-year-old ballerina-turned-burlesque-performer in evident need of therapy, at the door without a stitch on—and a young man waiting for her in bed. That Ledare immediately grabbed his camera instead of calling a shrink speaks to a certain presence of mind, I guess, but in any case, we're treated to Ledare mre in flagrante, or, as in the case of Mom with Red Heels, thrusting her depilated pudenda at the viewer. As if to show that the apple never falls far from the tree, Ledare offers a self-portrait with his junk hanging out. Beyond TMI, the whole project strikes me as cruel: Unblinking videos of Ledare's mother in the hospital, or of her breaking down emotionally, lead one to conclude that his aim is to get back at her. Clearly, issues abound.
A similarly dark undercurrent informs Martha Petschnig's living-room/bedroom installations, centered on home-movie-quality vids featuring flashes of women in weird bondagey gear, naked little girls and scenes from what's apparently a Catholic confirmation ceremony. I try to imagine that this is some sort of 21st-century elaboration on queer aesthetics, though there are enough instances of the real deal—notably photos by Alice O'Malley and K8 Hardy—to have made me think I was back in '90s.
Still, some of the best works in the show are those that use gay identity as a point of departure for larger personal or pop-cultural trips. Kalup Linzy's demented drag soap opera set in a record company, for example, is a hoot, as are Leidy Churchman's folk-art paintings celebrating bear culture as a woodsy, fishermany idyll—where, apparently, the road to sexual nirvana is covered in plaid flannel shirts and cable-knit sweaters. Rashaad Newsome's the conductor displays more of the artist's deconstructions of hip-hop hypermasculinity, this time as a YouTube mash-up of music videos set to Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Newsome smartly plays off the ubiquity of both Orff's masterpiece and gangsta iconography in our 500-channel universe to offer what's at root an existential meditation.
Unfortunately, these highlights are offset by a preponderance of duds or good works poorly installed. (Erin Shirreff's sublimely mysterious "space-rock" photos paired with an intrusive sound installation? Really?) Perhaps MoMA figures that, like the Whitney, it can get away with mounting half-baked shows and still maintain "Greater New York" as an essential franchise. That may work fine for attendance, but it's not necessarily what the art world needs.
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