Art Inspection

What to Expect at the New Museum Triennial

Get familiar with the New Museum's Triennial, “Songs for Sabotage,” before you see it yourself.
The New Museum Triennial began in 2009 as a way to showcase and “learn about the work of young, emerging artists,” described Massimiliano Gioni, remarking on the occasion of the triennial’s fourth edition, which debuted last week. “I personally felt a sort of widening generational gap opening in front of my eyes…ultimately, I believe that’s the function of art and museums—that is, to face us with what we don’t understand.”

The first triennial of the post-Obama era, as it were, is titled “Songs for Sabotage.” Co-curators, Alex Gartenfeld of ICA Miami and the New Museum’s Gary Carrion-Murayari, spent the better part of the last three years planning the exhibition. From the beginning, they endeavored to take a global approach. “Gary and I set out to connect artists to their local political contexts,” explains Gartenfeld. The results, he adds, while informed by their “research into global art production,” ultimately represent “a deliberately narrow cross-section of artists looking at how images are shaping political life.” 

The triennial features 30 multi-national artists, many of whom have never shown work in New York City, or even in a museum context. Born largely between 1982 and 1992, fewer than a third live in the United States, while barely a quarter are based in contemporary art hubs like New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. While about a third of them have immigrated to new countries, and the majority have moved to new cities, still others have remained in or returned to their hometowns.
Header: Claudia Martínez Garay, The Leftovers, 2016. Mixed media, 145 5/8 x 185 in (369.6 x 470 cm). Courtesy the artist and Ginsberg Galería, Lima, with support by Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam. Photo: Arturo Kameya/Top left: Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude, Mazino (Tshe Standard Bearer), 2017. Oil on canvas, 98 3/8 x 55 in (250 x 140 cm). Courtesy the artist and First Floor Gallery Harare/Top right: Janiva Ellis, The Okiest Doke, 2017. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in (101.6 x 76.2 cm). Courtesy the artist and 47 Canal, New York. Photo: Joerg Lohse/Bottom:  Hardeep Pandhal, Career Suicide (still), 2016. HD video; 25:33 min. Courtesy the artist.

What this geographically-dispersed group has to offer is, paradoxically, their lack of cohesion—they are young, and they are artists, and, from their various vantage points, they consider the state of the world.

“The practices represented in this exhibition are highly personalized, [as well as] reflective of each artist’s deep immersion into their local context and the powers that manifest there,” elaborates Gartenfeld.

Echoing this sentiment at an event last week, Carrion-Murayari emphasized this stance as being “against the idea of a unified vision of what a global artist is, in favor of artists who work, whose subject matter is localized and often idiosyncratic.”

Accordingly, the curatorial framework maintains each artist’s conceptual independence; likewise, the exhibition creates ample space between different artists’ bodies of work, eschewing arbitrary or decorative juxtapositions. Their distance is left intact.

In navigating this void, the show implies that infrastructure may emerge as an overarching theme—manifesting throughout the works in a variety of ways.

Lydia Ourahmane, The Third Choir, 2014. Sound installation with twenty Naftal oil barrels imported from Algeria, CZ-5HE radio transmitter, and twenty Samsung E2121B phones, 118 1/8 × 196 7/8 in (300 × 500 cm). Courtesy the artist.

A site-specific installation by Algerian artist Lydia Ourahmane, titled Finitude, takes a minimalist approach: Situated in the museum’s Shaft Space, a hidden recess between the third and fourth floors, a “replicate wall” of chalk and ash creates a disorienting effect as it blends into yet distorts the white surface of the room. Throughout the triennial, “sonic pulses and vibrations” will play on a loop, slowly disintegrating the piece.

Meanwhile, for Oslo-based artist Tiril Hasselknippe, inspiration comes in mangled forms—her sculptures imagine “how infrastructure might be impacted by disaster.” Hanging precariously from the ceiling, Hasselknippe’s Balconies (støp, i meg, støp) (2018) a large-scale steel work, evokes the aftermath of a proletariat revolt in which the remnants of balconies, detached from bourgeois facades, now litter the streets. In this instance, the notion of an architectural embellishment as being tied to history and power implicates socio-economic systems as a more imperceptible infrastructure. 

For Daniela Ortiz, who was born in Peru and is based in Barcelona, nowhere is this dynamic more pronounced than in the existence of monuments depicting European colonizers known to have committed genocide as heroic conquerors. In the latest of her ongoing efforts to undermine the lingering legacies of colonialism, Ortiz has devised six proposed replacements for six real-life Christopher Columbus statues located in New York, Los Angeles, Lima, Madrid, and Barcelona. Presented as miniature ceramic models, each monument retains its approximate silhouette, but that’s about it—some notable modifications include the replacement of the Columbus Circle namesake with a young migrant girl, and the removal of the head of another Christopher Columbus.

Considering the triennial as a whole in terms of infrastructure, the experience starts to feel a bit meta—the museum, too, serves as a sort of cultural infrastructure, which in turn exists amid the infrastructure of the city, and so on. 

“One of the central premises of this exhibition,” says Gartenfeld, “is that art is part of the infrastructure that we live—and might communicate as a type of propaganda, that is, communicate political ideologies, social ideologies, and resistances that advocate for change to as many people and with as much power as possible.”

Catch the Triennial now through May 27, 2018. 


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