Museum Review: New Museum of Contemporary Art
The New Museum of Contemporary Art is an institution located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The museum is devoted to introducing innovative art from emerging as well as under-recognized artists. It is also the only museum in Manhattan dedicated solely to contemporary art. Its mission and location in the famously-artsy LES lends to their experimental programming. This allows their shows to be more avant-garde or “out there.”
The New Museum has recently made headlines in the art world for the unionization of their employees, pioneering a call for fair wages and transparency across the industry. With this in mind, I headed to the institution to check out their Summer 2019 program. The museum has five floors of galleries plus a rooftop (open only on weekends, so I didn’t get to see it). There is also a bookstore, as well as the storefront window which is used as an exhibition space. Here were the highlights of my visit:
My favorite exhibition on view. Mika Rottenberg is a New York-based Argentinian artist. Her solo show “Easypieces” featured both installation and video.
When you enter the first gallery of the exhibition, lips, a ponytail, and an elaborately manicured finger are removed from any visible body and placed throughout the room, on the walls, as separate entities. Two stovetops with pans (which I believe to represent a nod to domestic labor) sizzle as automated drops of water hit their surface from the ceiling. The artist has a clear interest in the body, particularly female bodies and their role/place in relation to modern technology & production. As stated by the museum, much of her work displays the "interconnectedness of the mechanical and corporeal”.
The exhibition also features video works. Each video is embedded within an installation that engulfs the viewer into an imagined environment. In one video, which connects Mexico and China through a fictional underground tunnel, visitors enter the space through a fabricated stone tunnel and exit though a garland curtain similar to the ones seen in the oversaturated Chinese shops within the video. In another, a fabricated pearl-making factory acts as entryway for a video set in that exact environment.
This makes us not only viewers, but also participants. Are we then complicit in the absurd assembly line of exploited pearl factory workers? Rottenberg’s installations challenge our complacency and expose us to the realities behind our unconscious consumption.
There is a clear humor in Rottenberg’s work. The humor is dark, satirical, and sometimes unsettling. But her works very much force the viewer to confront truths about consumerism, globalism, labor, and technology.
This exhibition will be on view until September 15, 2019.
Marta Munijín’s “Menesunda Reloaded” is a fun-house fantasy land inspired by the artist’s hometown of Buenos Aires. When I walked through it, I thought it felt very much like a pop-up, instagram-friendly “museum.” Later, I learned it was actually originally created in 1965, so it is a work that has proven to be ahead of its time. Only a few people can enter at one time, and you are led through a specific journey, experiencing a number of different spaces and scenarios. As you initially walk up a set of stairs, there are TV screens which display a live feed of your face, a sign that you are being watched (a comment on the surveillance state, which contrasts the general sensory amusement of the exhibition). Different worlds included the inside of a stark-white fridge (with an actual drop in temperature), a room of stuffed tubular plastic entities resembling organs, and a soft room made of mattresses and styrofoam. At one point there is a bedroom scene with actors posing as a couple reading in bed (again suggesting surveillance or voyeurism as a running theme).
I watched a video of Munijín explaining her exhibition, and she states she wants the work the experienced sensorially, not deeply contemplated. So I will not digress, and simply say that it was an enjoyable immersive experience that felt as if I had stepped outside the museum into the artist’s imagination.
This exhibition will be on view until September 29, 2019.
“Work From Underneath” is Himid’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States. She is the winner of the 2017 Turner Prize. This exhibition features new works, including both painting and sculpture.
Himid is a pioneer of the British Black Arts Movement, and is interested in depicting and subverting notions of marginalized people. She references the effects of colonialism, and notes the importance of diverse representation within her work. A series of paintings in the exhibition takes its language from health and safety manuals, but clearly parallels greater social dictums. Her paintings of black people are important in that they display sense of community, productivity, and positivity, things she believed lacking in the depiction of black people by mainstream culture.
Her combination of language, bright colors, and the subversive gaze work to dismantle limiting notions of marginalized communities in a visually captivating manner.
This exhibition will be on view until October 6, 2019.
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