Organized by Garage Museum of Contemporary Art chief curator Kate Fowle, the group exhibition “The New International” focused on art made after the heady year of 1989. As the Cold War’s end began to dissolve strict geopolitical boundaries, artists were newly free to travel, share information and generally refashion what contemporary art could be. Shaken loose from nationalistic determinism, they became, in a sense, international. The exhibition brought together artists who came to prominence during the ’90s and those who grew up during that era, providing perspective on the promises and anxieties of the peculiar and brief period between the collapse of Cold War hegemonies and the rise of a globalized capitalism that dominates the world today.
Significant works or records of happenings by 10 artists or artist groups, including Paul Khera, Santiago Sierra, IRWIN and Goshka Macuga, were spread across two rooms in this dense exhibition. Familiar to many was Shirin Neshat’s 1999 Golden Lion-winning Turbulent (1998), a two-screen black-and-white film installation that draws attention to the complexities of gender in the artist’s native Iran. Neshat contrasts a man singing a Persian poem in a theater packed with other men and a lone female singing a wordless, lyrical and sometimes wrenching lamentation. Belgian artist and filmmaker Johan Grimonprez’s heterodox film essay dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997) still shocks with its montage of documentary footage of airplane hijackings and clips from Hollywood films, animations and commercials. Less well known was a temporary archive dedicated to a 1997 act of vandalism by Kazakh-born artist Alexander Brener, who spent five months in Dutch prison for spraying a dollar sign on Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism (1920-27) as it hung in the Stedelijk Museum. Press coverage of the incident, excerpts of discussions in cultural periodicals and online forums, and documentation of subsequent artworks inspired by the action were included in the presentation, demonstrating the growth of art discourse during the time.
Several younger artists reflected on the flimsiness of national identity. Japanese painter Makiko Kudo’s large work Manager of the end of the world (2010) portrays a girl dreamily afloat in a pool in what appears to be an exotic greenhouse. She is a figure at one with the universe, unencumbered by a specific locality. Nearby were several sizable fragments of Danh Vo’s 250-part replica of the Statue of Liberty, We The People (2011-14), which undoes any image of America as a united whole. Furthermore, Vo himself—a Vietnam-born, Danish artist currently living in Berlin, who had this work fabricated in Shanghai—represents a kind of new international.
With its title’s obvious Marxist overtones, “The New International” reminded the viewer of a time when the word “international” invoked a spirit of fraternity and common good. Yet the show also acknowledged the vast apparatus global capital has become.