A few weeks ago I had a few hours to myself in New York and, after much consternation over both the Studio Museum and the Brooklyn Museum being closed on Tuesdays, I decided to check out the New Museum’s Triennial exhibition. Titled Surround Audience, the show is the third in the museum’s “triennial” program: group exhibitions which endeavor to spotlight important artists early in their careers, predicting the future of contemporary art. The result is a museum-wide showcase packed with awesome, diverse, young artists (so young, ugh) and I liked pretty much all of it! The size and scope of the show as a whole is daunting, and I could never write about everything I saw, so instead I’ve picked out the top five artists who stuck out to me.
Artist-poet-DJ Juliana Huxtable has been making waves with her strong online presence, gathering a large following on instagram and tumblr. I had heard of her but wasn’t too familiar with her work, but her photography and poetry on view in Surround Audience immediately pulled me in. In her performance-photography, she creates personae inspired by pop culture, history, and mythology, with a narrative feel. Her photographs are interspersed with free-form poetry ruminating on identity, communication, capitalism, and generational history. In the center of the gallery with her pieces is a life-size sculpture of the artist created by Frank Benson (with Huxtable’s collaboration). With its tantalizing sheen and eerie green-gray color palette, the 3D-printed work captures the trans artist during her transition period, proudly showcasing her non-gender-conforming body while also placing it on a kind of sci-fi plane that matches the otherworldly feel of her self-portraits. Taken together, the works present Huxtable as both a changeable, larger-than-life fictional character as well as a bold, uninhibited, and real person.
Berlin-based video artist Oliver Laric’s untitled piece offers a study of transformation, appropriation, and narrative tropes within Western and Japanese animation. A string of short, hand-drawn animated clips are shown in fast succession, capturing characters and some objects at the moment of transformation, with humans turning into animals, alien creatures, mechanical contraptions, etc, but the full change never shown as it blinks to the next shot. There are also moments where the act of drawing is shown, as strokes of line and paint daubs coalesce into figures. The video as a whole seems tailor-made for internet-savvy folks, with references to furries, Disney, anime, and Saturday-morning cartoons, but it’s also easy to interpret its constantly shifting forms as a commentary on contemporary society, on a fast-paced culture that must endlessly re-appropriate the old into something new, preying on our sense of nostalgia. Honestly, I just loved watching it, the animation is beautiful and fluid, the premise is inventive, and the ambient score is hypnotic.
I’m pretty sure I let out an audible gasp of delight when I came upon Eva Kotátková’s installation. Her collection of performative sculpture immediately reminded me of one of my favorite artists, Rebecca Horn, but pushed to even further extremes than Horn’s early body extensions. Kotátková’s work employs cage structures and prickly objects to create interactive tools and faux-appendages, accompanied by collage-drawings diagramming more elaborate creations. I love the possibility of her work, with images of hypothetical performers coming to mind as I viewed each piece (there were scheduled performances, but I missed them). Statically, they visually interact with each other within the installation, set against a cheery yellow backdrop that contrasts with the slightly menacing effect of the metal bars and rods that make up the sculptural shapes. Like Horn, Kotátková explores bondage as a concept, and her contraptions encourage users to consider the balance of bodily freedom and containment as they both hamper and enhance movement, along with the psychological effects of institutions that enforce these controls, like prisons and hospitals.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
It’s no secret I love collage, and these large-scale mixed media pieces by Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby stopped me in my tracks. Her recent marriage to an American and move to Los Angeles serve as the context for these multi-layered portraits. For her, combining different styles and visual sources is a direct connection to her cultural history, referencing how colonized countries have often been forced to assimilate the art of Western cultures into their own traditions. With an eclectic array of source materials and brilliant color schemes, her works capture simple, intimate moments between lovers, focusing on expressive body language in her figures while the collage elements taken from Nigerian magazines capture the country she left behind. They drew me in almost immediately with their large size and tactile mixed-media layers, encouraging a close, lingering look.
Born in Yugoslavia (now Serbia), Berlin-based artist Aleksandra Domanović is concerned with the history of technology within her home country, and especially women’s roles in it. Her installation for the Triennial is the third in a trilogy of works connecting science-fiction, technological history, and the representation of women. Here, she has created three 3D-printed sculptures modeled after the Belgrade Hand, an early robotic prosthetic invented in the 60s by Serbian scientist Rajko Tomović, displayed within a hanging curtain of plastic sheeting decorated with blood cells and sea creatures to suggest a contrast between organic and man-made materials. Though based on the same model, the three sculptures perform different actions and seem to have portray diverse abilities, suggesting the technological advances that have since been made and more that may still be possible in future developments. Their realistic fabrication but fantastical look gives them an uncanny presence, and as I observed them it was easy to make mental links to robots-gone-bad sci-fi tropes like the disembodied Terminator hand or the hodgepodge mechanical killer in Hardware.by