Wednesday, February 20, 2013

1993—So Near, So Far

 Daniel Joseph Martinez, Museum Tags: Second Movement (Overture) or Overture con Claque – Overture with Hired Audience Members 1993 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1993. Metal and enamel on paint, 12 x 15 in (30.5 x 38.1 cm). Courtesy the artist and Simon Preston, New York 
How can 1993 be 20 years ago? Doesn't it seem like the stylistic differences between decades has slowed down, or is it just a side effect of getting old? Think about the difference between 1950 and 1970; 1960 and 1980; 1970 and 1990.... and then around the millennium, it seems to hit the brakes. Maybe it's because the electronic revolution had a one-generation "blast" effect; maybe because 9/11 just arrested everything... maybe there just isn't enough distance yet. 

In any case, the New Museum's NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (through May 26, 2013) focuses on that year, and on a number of artists who were included in that Whitney Biennial, which was among the most controversial in memory. (Remember Daniel Joseph Martinez's I Can't Ever Imagine Wanting To Be White buttons?) Activism was still extremely strong, riding on the previous decades' successive waves of civil, women's, and gay rights, and in reaction to the AIDS plague. But the early 90s also seemed to be a segue into a slicker, more commercial period: factory or guild-style production and large-scale photography gained prevalence, plus a move away from issue art. 

Curators Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, Jenny Moore, and Margot Norton have chosen a multitude of artworks with a message. On a personal note, I worked at Ronald Feldman Gallery then, and was moved to see works by Ida Applebroog, Suzanne McClelland, Hannah Wilke, and Pepon Osorio included in 1993. They all have had a connection with Feldman, which generally speaking shows conceptual or thoughtful issue-oriented work, or art that's based on scientific research or experimentation.
 Ida Applebroog, Kathy W, 1992. Oil on canvas, 110 x 90".
 Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, New York. 
Photo: Dennis Cowley 

Included is one of Applebroog's Marginalia series, comprising small panels in shades of dried blood that form fractured portraits of odd characters, and Kathy W, one of the artist's tamer paintings, of a Santa surrounded by figures. McClelland's painting, Alright, Alright, Alright, is a fine example of how she works on many levels, playing with language, swooping abstract forms, and variegated surfaces. And Wilke's two photo self-portraits—one taken when healthy, the other after undergoing treatment for cancer—show the same indominitable spirit that powered her work til her early death, only in vastly differing states.

There are major installations by Felix Gonzales-Torres, Cady Noland, Jason Rhoades, and Pepon Osorio, the latter two with a predeliction for apparent chaos. The work of Gonzales-Torres, who died in 1996, elegantly bridges the wonkiness of 80s' conceptual work and the slickness of the late 20th century, often using mundane items to raise questions of consumerism, capitalism, ownership, and originality. Rhoades, who also died relatively young, made primarily abstract 3D works using found materials; these items had the added bonus of imbuing associated meaning to be accepted or discarded. Osorio is known for his elaborate installations, and here, The Scene of the Crime (Whose Crime?), is wedged into a corner, forcing the viewer closer to inspect the elaborate interior and police detritus. 

Janine Antoni shows a large installation of busts made of soap and chocolate. Like Gonzales-Torres, her work managed to encapsulate both issues and slickness in a way that very much represented the time. Robert Gober, Charles Ray, and Mike Kelley, conceptual pranksters with a slick side, could fall into this group. And Nari Ward's installation of abandoned strollers is at the annex on the Bowery.

Art will always be of its time and contain issues and statements. 1993 gives one pause for reflection on the swift passing of time, the compression of generations, and provides a quick stroll down Memory Lane. 

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