In Which The New Museum Goes Hunting And Nearly Catches A Woozle

Bring In The New

by Emma Rebhorn

The New Museum

235 Bowery,

NY NY 10002

212. 219. 1222

The New Museum opened its Bowery location on Saturday; the first thirty hours were free, thanks to Target, and there was free candy and hideous decals on the 5th floor thanks to Target, too.

Because I live a few blocks away, it felt like a major public event, like a block party or free tacos at San Loco. My neighborhood didn’t have any large museums before this weekend, a fact that inspired endless commentary on the nature of the Lower East Side and the city as a whole.

The New York Times begins its review of the New Museum’s new building by posing some questions: New York is in the cultural doldrums. The city is bursting with gorgeous art exhibitions, but where is the raw energy? Where is the new blood, intent on upending the establishment?

In short:

To a methadone clinic, probably

That self-conscious billboard is a block south of the self-conscious new museum building, and they are each obsessed with their own intrepidness. It’s true that if you look only at certain storefronts, the Bowery can seem like the last part of Manhattan where white tourists go that isn’t shiny yet. As the borough is evermore gluttonously developed, everything is objectified because everywhere becomes a backdrop.

Marc Andre Robinson, Myth Monolith (Liberation Movement), 2007

The socially acceptable re-packaging of the Bowery wasn’t the billboard’s intention; the Voice and the Times are both trying desperately to assure us, and their markets, that the heart of the city beats on.Sadly, it’s virtually impossible to do this sans metaphor. Real junkies aren’t very romantic (they almost never bring flowers on dates), and I bought my electric mixer at one of those Bowery-defining kitchen supply stores. It was just super dusty. The museum’s new location has been fetishized enough; dare we mention how far it actually moved?

“Too Many People” – Glen Hansard (mp3)

“Are You Ten Years Ago” – Tegan and Sara (mp3)

The building itself, however, more than adequately compensates for the misplaced hubbub about its address. The museum is gorgeous. The architects, Sejima + Nishizawa/SANAA, covered the fragmented façade in anodized aluminum mesh. In the early morning it glows pink, but on cold nights it looks punishing.Architecturally, the interior experience is close to perfect, too. There are three main galleries, on the second third and fourth floors; they have no columns, so only a block of stairways and elevators breaks up the spaces.

The sallow gray floors intensify the beauty of pieces that are supposed to be beautiful, and pieces that are supposed be ugly look right at home—the quasi-industrial quality of the galleries invites the belief that the hard art hasn’t lost its edge.“Edge” is important to the New Museum’s curators; it has to be, otherwise they’d still be working uptown.

The New Museum was founded in 1977 by Marcia Tucker after she left the Whitney; if this past summer’s “Summer of Love” exhibition is any indication, she was replaced by seventh graders.

The opening exhibition at the New Museum is “Unmonumental: the Object in the 21st Century,” the first of a four-part series. The installation will grow in layers until it closes in March; the sculptures will be supplemented first by collages, then by sound, and then by online montages. The exhibit is a collage! Get it?

Jim Lambie, Spilt Enz (Wig Mix), 2005

Conceptually, “Unmonumental” seems neat, or at least commendable. It’s an attempt to answer a question that must be plaguing contemporary art curators everywhere: how to hang art that wasn’t meant be hung? Internet-based art is unforgivingly site-specific and experiential, so it’s almost never presented effectively in an institutional setting.

It remains to be seen how the New Museum will handle that stage of the installation; their partnership with the new media organization Rhizome is promising, though, because we love Rhizome.

Right now, the only Rhizome associated installation is Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’s “Black On White, Gray Ascending,” which tells an intrigue-laden story of a political assassination with seven screens of Flash animated text timed to jaunty, Casio-esque beats.

The museum was so chaotic during its first thirty hours that “Black on White” became a place of respite and small children and moms sat along the walls. The first-floor gallery is long and narrow, so I wound up watching the videos shoulder to shoulder with strangers. It felt like standing in an airport looking for my flight information.

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Black On White, Gray Ascending, 2007

There are no paintings or strictly two-dimensional pieces at the museum right now, which is the point of “Unmonumental,” sort of, but the kind of sculpture that’s being celebrated in the contemporary art world feels awfully hollow all alone.

A sampling of John Bock’s materials is representative: milk carton, markers, gauze, empty spray paint can, and Q-tips. Almost all of the pieces appeared uniform in their vulgarity of craftsmanship, with the notable exceptions of Elliot Hundley’s preening bamboo tower:

Elliot Hundley, Proscenium, 2006

and Sarah Lucas’s surprisingly moving deconstructed lion:

Sarah Lucas, Lion (2006)

There is a place and a purpose for works of art that call attention to their own fabrication, or to our positions as observers/consumers, but “This Is Not An Artwork,” Rachel Harrison, really? What is it? A pipe?

Rachel Harrison, This Is Not An Artwork, 2006

“Unmonumental” can be relentlessly clever, and a grumpy museum visitor might wonder why she went all the way to the 4th floor to murmur appreciatively at what are essentially expensive photocopies. Luckily, SANAA even designed the New Museum’s staircases to be beautiful, so the climb would have been worth it, anyway. If she’s lucky, our fictional museum visitor will even pick up a junkie on the way out.

Emma Rebhorn blogs at Red Admirable. She lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.


John Cage

Diane Williams

Sol LeWitt

3 thoughts on “In Which The New Museum Goes Hunting And Nearly Catches A Woozle

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