“The Ungovernables: 2012 New Museum Triennial.” Leap. April (2012): 180–183.


Post in: Reviews May 2012 | Tag in: LEAP 14 | Reviews Date: 2012.02.15-2012.04.22 | Reviews Venues: New Museum, New York

hassan khan NEW-MUSEUM_1_featureimage1

Hassan Khan, Jewel (still), 2010, 35 mm film transferred to full HD accompanied by music composed and produced by the artist, suspended screen, fixture, 6 min. 30 sec. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. At the New Museum’s second Triennial “The Ungovernables,” however, visitors often find themselves needing to trudge through lengthy, jargonistic labels in order to make sense of the many artworks and projects on display. While this seems to have become the norm these days for contemporary art exhibitions worldwide—the art therein unanimously packed with inter-disciplinary approaches, institutional and ideological critiques, and multivalent references—it is a trend that sometimes muddles those thousand words into a thousand ambiguities.

Ambitiously titled in the wake of recent political upheavals and economic crises, most prominently the Occupy Movement, the Triennial features 34 international artists and collectives from a generation now in their late twenties and thirties; the majority of these participants have never exhibited in the U.S. before, though many, including Adrián Villar Rojas, Hassan Khan, and Danh Võ, are already international biennial veterans. Curator Eungie Joo intends for the show to “embrace the energy of that generation’s urgencies,” but the line-up proved to be anything but mutinous, artistically or politically.

Working your way down from the top floor, one first encounters a cube of bank notes stacked Carl Andre-style on the floor. The label informs that it results from Bangkok-based artist Pratchaya Phinthong’s repeated trading of his five thousand euros investment into Zimbabwean dollars—one of the world’s weakest currencies—thereby echoing the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and transforming banknotes into “art commodity.” Ready-made, performative in process, and laden with critical gestures, the work, like many others in the show, leaves little room for alternative interpretations. The art object within the institution’s walls seems merely residual, an illustration of or footnote to a lengthier endeavor that often takes the form of an explorative intervention, which in turn appears to be somewhat derivative of the popular critical theories—neo-Colonialism, relational aesthetics, identity politics, and so on—that underscore the art world’s new orthodoxy.

At the innermost corner of the fifth floor gallery, the transgender Asian American artist Wu Tsang stares squarely into the camera and mechanically recites a text from autism rights activist Amanda Baggs. The performance is nuanced and interpretive of the excerpt itself (thanks to Wu’s theory-teaching background), but the artist’s rapid ascension to stardom (this year double-casting in the New Museum Triennial and the Whitney Biennial, for one) is equally telling and ironic. While minority groups in the real world endure and fight implicit prejudices, artists who play the minority card in the art world prevail, because multiple “otherness,” among many things, is just what every mainstream art institution is dying to include in group shows. To balance out, to be politically correct, and towards cliché.

In line with the timeliness implied in the title, many artworks and projects reflect recent political and economic issues. In her 2008 work The Trainee, Finnish artist Pilvi Takala pulled an impressive month-long “occupation” of an accounting firm’s office where she was temporarily employed, doing nothing but sitting still and spacing out. The multi-channel installation at the triennial loosely simulates an office setting and streams recordings of both her performative intervention and her colleagues’ responses. As a quiet, individualized subversion of the corporate world, it nevertheless gives the impression of merely dwelling on the surface; in terms of evoking the numbing daily routines of whitecollar life, TV series such as The Office might provide more insightful satire and drier wit.

View of “The Ungovernables,” 2012, New Museum, New York. From left: Amalia Pica, Eavesdropping (Version No.2, large), 2011; Adrián Villar Rojas, A Person Loved Me, 2012; Danh Võ, WE THE PEOPLE, 2011. Photo: Benoit Pailley

Showcasing thin, segmented copper replicas of the Statue of Liberty scattered about in a Richard Serra-esque manner in his 2011 work We the People, Vietnamese artist Danh Võ touches upon problems of labor inherent in global capitalism (the pieces were intentionally produced in a workshop in China) but acquiesces to an all-too familiar deconstructive stance. The Propeller’s Group, based in Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles, explores ideological problems from a more interesting perspective. Following their instructions to re-brand Communism, a generic advertisement agency produced a whimsical animated video that light-heartedly sells the idea of “New Communism.” Next to the final product, a five-channel synchronized video installation shows the discussions in progress. This and many of the other works call to mind curator Hou Hanru’s recent correspondence with Hans Ulrich Obrist, in which he discusses and cautions against “political exoticism and consumption of the other” endemic to recent creative practices.

Works less concerned with theoretical appendages, on the other hand, often turn out more appealing and cliché-free. These include Brazilian artists Cinthia Marcelle and Tiago Mata Machado’s 2011 video The Century, which looks down to a dingy street gradually littered with all sorts of debris, buckets, and tubes in recurring, rhythmic crashing sounds that concisely yet poetically echoing the latest happenings. Or Argentinian artist Adrian Villar Rojas’ towering, cracked clay sculpture reminiscent of an abandoned mechanical structure—titled A Person Loved Me, its imposing presence transforms the gallery into a dystopian terrain with the romantic evocations of a post-apocalyptic world often imagined in sci-fi novels and manga. Or fellow Argentinian Mariana Telleria’s Días en que todo es verdad (Days of Truth), a Wunderkammer of found and manipulated objects—such as a barren branch whose twigs crawl into an array of white porcelain cups of various shapes and sizes—neatly displayed on wood shelves.

On the second floor is Cairo-based artist Hassan Khan’s traffic-stopping 2010 video JEWEL. Accompanied by highly-contagious Shaabi (a popular Cairene genre fusing traditional instruments and electronic music) score composed by the artist himself, the video begins with closeup shots of a glittering anglerfish later revealed to be a neon-blue image on a slowly revolving square disco ball. As the camera slowly zooms out, we see two figures, one pudgy middle-aged man in a leather jacket and jeans, the other a slender young lad in a white shirt and khakis dancing in the unlikely setting of a black box. The camera draws further away as the two men spontaneously change moves, interacting in a seemingly endless dance, the perpetual space between them a poignant metaphor for the inexplicable subtleties in relationships of every nature. Inspired by the actual interaction and class and power struggles witnessed in real life, the work is charged with intense, seductive and mind-boggling energies that leave many viewers mesmerized and slightly bubbly.

The predominance of video, installation, and other multimedia work makes the inclusion of one set of expressive, academic-looking oil paintings portraying Africans by London-based artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s appear tokenistic. The small number of drawings and murals on display appear somewhat mediocre, excepting Hong Kong artist Lee Kit’s pastel-blue cardboard paintings of selected merchandise logos that posses personal significance to the artist seen in his self-effacing installation Scratching the Table Surface and Something More.

Overall, the Triennial is a clustering of different directions and agendas, where familiar formulas of institutional critique, identity politics, and social activism (however well-intentioned the initiative) still plague the creative impulses in many of the works. Operating beyond this latest form of institutionalization and exploring more meaningful engagements will continue to be a challenge to artists of this generation, and to those who come after. Referencing her country’s former military dictatorship, London-based Argentinian artist Amalia Pica’s Venn Diagrams—two overlapping circles projected on the wall—prompt reflection on yet another complicated matter: as contemporary art relentlessly pushes its boundaries to embrace broader issues and intersect with other disciplines—sometimes producing hybrids that are essentially mature products of the other disciplines, be they theater (a hotly-debated topic in last year’s Performa), political science research projects, or anarchist movements—where is the fine line between allencompassing and over-diluted? And what is an art institution’s place in all this?

Maybe some answers are to be found in the next Triennial. Wang Xin


发表于: 下版 May 2012 | Tag in: 2012年4月号 | Reviews Date: 2012.02.15-2012.04.22 | Reviews Venues: 纽约新美术馆

哈桑·汗,《宝石》(静帧),2010年,35毫米胶片转高清、音乐由艺术家作曲与制作、 悬屏、灯具,6分30秒,艺术家和巴黎Chantal Crousel画廊惠允

纽约新美术馆的第二届三年展的标题“不受控”,诞生于近来接二连三的政治风波及经济危机的背景之下,其中最突出的是“占领华尔街”的运动。本次三年展的参展艺术家及组合有34个,年龄介乎二十几岁到三十几岁之间,他们中的大部分此前从未在美国展出过,不过也有像阿德里安·比利亚·罗哈斯以及傅丹这样的国际双年展座上宾。策展人Eungie Joo希望展览能够“拥抱这一代人迫切的能量,”但这种主动对号入座无论在艺术还是政治层面都被证明是容易失控的。




展览现场,2012年,纽约新美术馆,从左至右:阿马利娅·皮卡,《偷听》,2011年; 阿德里安·比利亚·罗哈斯,《一个曾经爱过我的人》,2012年;傅丹,《我们人民》, 2011年,摄影:贝诺瓦·派利





总体来说,本次三年展综合了大量不同的方向和议题。在许多作品中,体制批评、身份政治和社会行动主义(不管初衷有多么良好)等老药方仍然左右着创造力的发挥。如何在这种新近的体制化之外运作,寻求更多有意义的投入将会是这一代艺术家以及未来艺术家所面临的挑战。阿根廷裔伦敦艺术家阿玛利亚·皮卡的作品《文氏图》—两个在墙上交叠的有色光圈引发人们对另一复杂命题的反思:随着当代艺术义无反顾地将自己的边界拓宽,企图包含更广阔的命题,并且与其他学科交叉—有时候会制造出某些杂交品种,它可能本质上是其他学科的成熟产品,不管是戏剧(去年纽约行为艺术双年展中激烈讨论的问题)、政治科学研究项目还是无政府主义运动,无所不包和过度稀释之间的界线究竟在哪呢?说到底,在这里面艺术机构究竟起到了什么作用?也许在下届三年展中我们会找到其中某些答案。 王辛(由梁幸仪翻译)

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