“New Order: Art and Technology in the Twenty-First Century” at the Museum of Modern Art through June 15, is a compelling foil to “The Art Happens Here.” The language of curator Michelle Kuo doesn’t invoke the internet, but “New Order” is like an internet show in its use of a loose theme as way to include a broad range of work in all mediums, its placement of formally similar but historically disparate works in a common sightline, and its roster of artists from the internet-show circuit (Trevor Paglen, Josh Kline, Seth Price, Sondra Perry, and so on). But “New Order” is selected and installed with more wit and elegance than other exhibitions of its ilk are; let’s hope it’s a lovely swan song for a dying genre.
One of the first works is a set of 3D–printed design objects, made by Neri Oxman using a technique she invented at the MIT Media Lab to print with molten glass. Most 3D-printed objects are opaque or translucent, but these have a seductive transparency that invites inspection of how the glass piles up in undulating layers. Further into the show is Tauba Auerbach’s Altar/Engine (2015), which explores creation of ornament through the iterative processes of computer-aided design and 3D printing. Auerbach’s rods and cones, ordered in neat rows, are built from series of coils and hooks. For her installation Augmented Objects (2012), Camille Henrot bought used objects—a hair dryer, a golf club, a saucepan, and other once-handy items—and coated them in epoxy modeling compound, tar, and sand. Like Auerbach’s prints, these muddy things lie on a low, wide plinth. The visual rhyme of the display technique sharpens the contrast between the works—Henrot’s look back to the junk of twentieth-century consumer culture, Auerbach’s gaze toward an unknown future—while also highlighting their similar concern with how tools mediate contact between bodies and the world.
“New Order” succeeds because it presents technology not as a novelty, but as medium of grappling with the eternal human tasks of representation and comprehension. The twenty-first century comes across as a period of transition, when the new is being born but the old still hangs around, and artists are gaining access to new tools that change the way they work through old ideas. As in “The Art Happens Here,” there is sensitivity to the shifts of material reality that occur in time. As museums continue to explore the relationship between art and technology, they would do well to treat the history of technology as seriously as they have traditionally approached the history of art.