Retrospective Reviews

When They Were Still ‘Younger Than Jesus’: Revisiting the First Two New Museum Triennials

Installation view of "Younger Than Jesus." Top: Cory Arcangel, Photoshop CS: 72 by 110 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient "Spectrum", mousedown y=1416 x=1000, mouse up y=208 x=42, 2009, unique chromogenic print. Bottom: Chu Yun, This is XX, 2006, female participant, sleeping pill, bed. PHOTO: BENOIT PAILLEY. COURTESY NEW MUSEUM

Installation view of “Younger Than Jesus.” Top: Cory Arcangel, Photoshop CS: 72 by 110 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1416 x=1000, mouse up y=208 x=42, 2009, unique chromogenic print. Bottom: Chu Yun, This is XX, 2006, female participant, sleeping pill, bed.

BENOIT PAILLEY/COURTESY NEW MUSEUM

Named “Younger Than Jesus,” for its group of 33-year-old-or-under artists, the New Museum’s first “Generational” triennial was met with mixed reactions when it opened in 2009. Was it a response to the Whitney Biennial? Was it a provocation? What was its point, anyway? Whatever doubts critics had about its quality, they mattered little. The show went on to become massively influential, exposing the art world to a number of young artists who previously hadn’t had a major following in New York. A relatively little-known video artist named Ryan Trecartin in that show is co-curating this year’s triennial with Lauren Cornell, who was then the executive editor of Rhizome. Massimiliano Gioni, one of the 2009 exhibition’s curators, went on to curate the 55th Venice Biennale.

But there was a problem—some felt that “Younger Than Jesus” wasn’t global enough. So, in 2012, Eungie Joo responded with the second New Museum Triennial, titled “The Ungovernables.” The show focused on artists from around the world who were responding to political oppression, be it in the form of Occupy Wall Street or the aftermath of colonialism.

What will this year’s New Museum Triennial, opening February 25, bring? M.H. Miller has some of the answers in this month’s issue. As the art world gears up for what will likely be another hotly debated”Generational,” we look back to Barbara Pollack’s reviews of “Younger Than Jesus” and “The Ungovernables,” published in 2009 and 2012, respectively, in ARTnews. —Alex Greenberger

Installation view of "Younger Than Jesus." Left: Kerstin Brästch, Untitled 2, 2006, oil on paper. Center: Das Institut, Untitled, 2008, poster rack with title posters and mannequin. Right: Adam Pendleton, Black Dada, 2009, silkscreen on canvas. PHOT: BENOIT PAILLEY. COURTESY NEW MUSEUM

Installation view of “Younger Than Jesus.” Left: Kerstin Brästch, Untitled 2, 2006, oil on paper. Center: Das Institut, Untitled, 2008, poster rack with title posters and mannequin. Right: Adam Pendleton, Black Dada, 2009, silkscreen on canvas.

BENOIT PAILLEY/COURTESY NEW MUSEUM

“The Generational”
By Barbara Pollack

In what looks like an effort to best the Whitney Biennial, the New Museum has launched a triennial devoted to artists under 33 years old. Labeled “Younger Than Jesus,” this surprisingly bland exhibition focuses on the accomplishments of the Facebook generation.

Ryan Trecartin’s contribution is the heart of the show. An anarchic send-up of the interior of an airplane as family room, the installation with its zany films featuring characters with multiple identities, brings a jolt of excitement to a show that should have more youthful energy than it does.

Some of the best works relate to aging. Czech artist Kateřina Sedá’s It Doesn’t Matter (2005–7) features 160 drawings of household objects made by her grandmother, who roused from apathy by the project, which Sedá documented in a moving accompanying film. Matt Keegan’s photomontage AMERICAMERICA (2008) encapsulates the influence of the Reagan era on his generation, while Berlin–based Israeli artist Keren Cytter contributes a savvy, disturbing film, Der Spiegel (The Mirror, 2007), in which two young women and a pair of men taunt a woman for being all of 40 years old. And Chinese artist Cao Fei offers her take on the generation gap with Yammy at Home (2004), a series of photographs contrasting the life of a young man who dresses up as video-game character with that of his parents.

International in scope, the show features at least one surprise. South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape, a newcomer, provides a beautiful meditation of the art of glamour in thwebula/ukuthwebula (2009), a black-and-white film of herself performing as a diva. The film installed in a black room reminiscent of an ’80s disco. Less interesting is the live performance created by Chinese artist Chu Yun in which women take turns sleeping in the second-floor gallery. There was a time when this museum was known for innovation and for bucking market trends, but in an era in which young artists are picked up straight from YouTube, this show can do little more than play catch up.

Installation view of "The Ungovernables." Back left: Minam Apang, How the wind was born, 2010, graphite and ink on archival paper. Center: Adrián Villar Rojas, A Person Loved Me, 2012, clay, wood, metal, cement, Styrofoam, burlap, sand, paint. Back right: Amalia Pica, Eavesdropping (Version #2, large), 2011, found drinking glasses, glue. PHOTO: BENOIT PAILLEY. COURTESY NEW MUSEUM

Installation view of “The Ungovernables.” Back left: Minam Apang, How the wind was born, 2010, graphite and ink on archival paper. Center: Adrián Villar Rojas, A Person Loved Me, 2012, clay, wood, metal, cement, Styrofoam, burlap, sand, paint. Back right: Amalia Pica, Eavesdropping (Version #2, large), 2011, found drinking glasses, glue.

BENOIT PAILLEY/COURTESY NEW MUSEUM

“The Ungovernables”
By Barbara Pollack

For this latest edition of its Triennial, the New Museum concentrates on worldwide movements of civil disobedience, extending from Occupy Wall Street to Cairo’s Tahrir Square protests. Titled “The Ungovernables,” an ironic appropriation of a derogatory term from apartheid-era South Africa, the exhibition features 34 artists and collectives, with only four from the United States. Participants range in age from 28 and 38. It is a truly international and diverse array of artists—who nonetheless share an iconoclastic approach to political ideas and materials.

According to Triennial curator Eungie Joo, the museum’s director of education and public programs, this generation has a skepticism born out of post-colonial and post-Communist independence movements that began idealistically but often deteriorated into new authoritarian regimes, religious fundamentalism, and rampant capitalism. That said, the art on view turns out not to be overtly political, overtly didactic, or visual unappealing. Rather, although it may not be extremely revelatory, “The Ungovernables” is packed with moments of vivacity, humor, and experimentation. These works remain difficult to pigeonhole despite a common call to flaunt the rules.

Many of the projects seem barely able to contain their youthful enthusiasm. The best examples of this are Toronto-born artist Julie Dault’s sculptures made of heavy roles of Plexiglas held together by a single string or band. Vietnamese artist Danh Võ’s huge installation We the People (2011) features abstract forms of pounded copper, remnants of a full-scale model of the Statue of Liberty waiting to be assembled. The sprawling piece is situated near the show-stopping A Person Loved Me (2012). This towering form of spaceships and satellites was made from Styrofoam and clay by Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas just days before the exhibition opened. All of these works have a monumentality undercut by impermanence, making them apt metaphors for the state of political regimes in much of the world today.

Crafting the perfect balance between fiction and reality is another theme that can be found in many of the strongest works. A Ho Chi Minh City/Los Angeles collective called the Propeller Group created a multiscreen installation by filming a focus group at a real advertising firm as it confronts the fictional challenge of coming up with a new brand for Communism. Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade assembled a faux archive by pairing pages from a found diary with vintage photographs and topographic snaps of Brasília in Tropical Hangover (2009). Lebanese artist Mounira Al Solh displays a wall full of magical collages and watercolors, which she says are the works of her fictional alter ego, an outsider artist named Bassam Ramlawi.

Joo correctly points out that this generation has a unique voice and is exercising a vocabulary all its own. This well-thought-out exhibition makes it clear that these artists will not be dominated by a single esthetic movement or philosophy. Nor are the represented by or carting to the art market. Living up to their name, the “ungovernables” may be new to many people in the United States, but they are worth keeping an eye on.

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