A Triennial is Born And It’s Younger Than Jesus

Alyssa Bianca-Pavley


The Whitney and Venice have their Biennials, and now the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York enters the ring with its own survey, the newly official Triennial. The Generational: Younger Than Jesus features work from young artists, all born after 1976, which means each is under the age of 33. In case you’re not a biblical scholar or avid bible reader, 33 is the age Jesus was when he died. And thus on the eighth day, a Triennial title was born!

And though the title is a little cheesy, as are the tacky t-shirts one can purchase in the gift shop on the main level, the work in this show is not. Spanning nearly all of the New Museum’s floors, it is a massive though manageable show. The artists in it are nothing if not diverse, working in a wide array of mediums, including video, sculpture, photography, drawing, performance, painting and basically anything else that comes to mind. The Generational ranges from a mix of (by now) big names, like video artist Ryan Trecartin1, who was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, to artists who have never had a solo show. This blend of the famous and the yet to become is what makes The Generational so vital, as it is truly a survey of current youth art.

The selection process for the show is one of the facets that makes this exhibition stand apart from other grand surveys. The three curators compiling the show, Lauren Cornell, Massimiliano Gioni and Laura Hoptman, took an approach that reflects the immediacy of the subject matter. Instead of just going with artists they were familiar with, the curators asked critics, teachers, artists, writers, other curators, and even bloggers to suggest and recommend young artists. The 500 recommended artists from all over the globe were then asked by the curators to submit work. Only 50 artists were chosen for the actual exhibition, though the curators were not quick to dismiss the other applicants. The New Museum is publishing two catalogues to go along with the show: one that discusses the artists included in The Generational and another that includes all 500 artists. The curators and art critic Brian Sholis also created a live archive on the fifth floor of the museum. The archive serves as a place for discussion and documentation of the global events that have effected this generation, along with an excellent selection of zines chosen through the same selection process as the art in the main galleries.

1. Trecartin’s Youtube page.  He is also represented by the Saatchi Gallery in London and Elizabeth Dee in New York.

The art in this nascent triennial ranges from exuberant to disquieting. Many of the strongest pieces are video work. Particularly strong is Polish artist Wojciech Bakowski’s “Film Mowiony 1”, an atmospheric film consisting of gorgeous animations that literally throb across the screen. Ryan Trecartin’s two-room installation for his fantastic video pieces, “K-Corea INC.K” and “Sibling Topics” thrust the reader into the zany, psychedelic world he is known for. Also great is LA-based Guthrie Lonergan’s “Myspace Intro Playlist”, which consists of two monitors playing videos of teens on Myspace introducing people to their page and all the awkwardness that ensues. Israeli artist Keren Cytter’s “Der Spiegel” is another excellent work, a short film that comments not only on human relations but also on the way films are created and edited.

Video is not the only medium in which these selected young artists excel at. Ida Ekblad’s “Untitled”, a series of ink paintings all stamped with the familiar McDonald’s golden arches, deftly challenges consumerism. Berlin-based AIDS-3D’s (artists Daniel Keller and Nik Kosmas) “OMG Obelisk” wittily defines a generation who often resorts to speaking in internet slang. Mexican conceptual artist Adriana Lara’s “Installation (Banana Peel)” is one of the most charming pieces in the show, asking a museum employee to eat a banana each day and deposit its peel somewhere among the gallery. No word if anyone’s slipped on them yet.

Likewise, Chinese artist Chu Yun takes volunteer participation to a new level in “This is Silke”, where she has a female participant take a sleeping pill and sleep in a fluffy white bed in the middle of a gallery, amongst curious museum visitors and inkjet paintings by Tauba Auerbach and Cory Arcangel.

Again the best thing about The Generational is the global perspective it offers viewers, giving them a chance to see work by young artists who might have never been shown before. The work is ambitious and evocative, some succeeding in rendering viewers speechless, like Wojciech Bokowski’s animated videos. Other pieces ooze with discomfort: Chu Yun’s work caused many visitors to take several shocked walks around the sleeping woman in the middle of the gallery.

The Generational’s curators have created an opportunity for young artists to get exposure and for viewers to see how this generation has taken their global views in confluence with technology and translated it into art. It will be interesting to see if the New Museum’s Triennial will assume the same clout that the Whitney’s Biennial has, as well as where these young artists will be by the time the next Triennial rolls around.

*image on the first page is Ryan Trecartin, “Re’Search Wait’S (Edit One: Re’Search missing corruption Budget)”, video still, 2009, Courtesy of Elizabeth Dee

**photographs from the show snapped by Alyssa Bianca-Pavley

***for more see the New Museum’s website