When Contemporary Art Talks

New Museum 2012 Triennial

By Aimee Rubensteen
On March 6, 2012

If great art generates new conversations, then the New Museum should expect anything but silence in their galleries. The New Museum 2012 Triennial, The Ungovernables, is the only recurring exhibition in the United States devoted to presenting young artists from around the globe. The Ungovernables is an exhibition about the urgencies of a generation who came of age after the independence and revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

At the exhibit's opening, curator Eungie Joo explained that she did not just create this exhibition as a forum for the artists, but also to generate a conversation among the viewers formally in the museum and informally after exiting the museum. In the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement and youth revolts around the world, Eugnie Joo said, "The Ungovernables embraces the energy of that generation's urgencies. These urgencies are formal and philosophical, material and ideological." Throughout the five floors, the gallery urges the viewer to conceptualize the urgency of this generation through unlikely medium and form.

Gabriel Sierra's installation demonstrates the way his generation feels claustrophobic. Specifically, his "Untitled (The Devil in the Shape of a Ladder)" – a ladder, a level, and a table, stuffed into holes in the museum's walls – captures the claustrophobia with urgency. His incisions in the wall offer the perfect amount of space for the contractor tools, which he could have used to make the incisions, but offer no room for movement or change. Sierra explains, "My approach is to understand how the spatial components are articulated within the atmosphere and how the ambient environmental qualities are synthesized within the experience of perception." While the art does strategically fit its mold, the title begs the viewer to reconsider the mundane objects they are viewing.

I was intrigued by Danh Võ's installation of copper sheets lying on the floor and against the wall. A group of reporters crowded around the installation's description label, and then continually nodded their heads as they, then, walked again around the installation. While the medium's malleability and color were naturally aesthetically pleasing, it was not until I read the words of the artist that I understood the piece's place in The Ungovernables. When Võ learned that the Statue of Liberty was simply a steel armature covered by a copper skin the thickness of two pennies, and he replicated the statue's skin for his work "We The People." While the installation presented the viewer with the construction of America's historical landmark, it also exposed the monument's thin and malleable medium, which might have never been considered.

The Ungovernables continued to challenge my perceptions on the fifth floor when I was standing in front of a Venn diagram. I was struck by the simple, but powerful, way the pink spotlight and the green spotlight overlap on the white wall. The juxtaposition of the harmless lights and the alarming descriptive texts forced me to reconsider the impact a higher authority has on our visual and mental consciousness. Amalia Pica's "Venn Diagrams (Under the Spotlight)" demonstrates art's ability to transform the way a viewer understands history and reality. While a Venn diagram has been quite a mundane and helpful informative device, it represented a weapon when it was censored in Argentina in the 1970s. The text printed below the spotlights read, "A Venn diagram is a mathematical illustration used to describe group dynamics and logical relations of inclusion and exclusion. During the period of dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s… Venn diagrams were banned from primary school as they could provide models for subversive thought." Both the artists and public have the ability to not just observe the Venn diagram, but also speculate the way it was used under oppressive authority. Pica's art produces new conversations by exploiting the device that the Argentinean dictatorship banned in order to prohibit conversation.

Over 50 participants – artists, artist groups, temporary collectives – collaborated on The Ungovernables. The exhibit probes the viewer to reconsider his or her preconceived notions about art's position within society. The three works of art I have described only begin the conversation of ungovernability among youth and manipulation of conception among society today. I will let the rest of the art at the exhibit do the rest of the talking.


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