Saturday afternoon, after settling in with the dogs, I decided to take a little walk around the ‘hood and ended up happily at the New Museum. The museum, which has Saturday hours until 6 o’clock, was not over crowded but still bustling with a group of curious like myself, going to take in the view on the 7th floor balcony and the art. “After Nature”, which closes on September 21st, takes place on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd floors of the museum. Taking the advice of one of the employees, I went straight to the 7th Floor and worked my way down.
Entering the 4th Floor after spiraling down the stairs, I later realized is the most sparse of the exhibition. The focal point is on Maurizio Catalan’s horse, and is flanked with a tree by artist Zoe Leonard. The two works definitely give space for pause. There is a moment where all of the white wash of the walls almost glows around the scene, putting the horse and the tree in a diluted milk-washed forest.
Then going to the 3rd floor, I giggled as a woman looked down the staircase and asked in horror, “Is that art or someone in need of help?” Not knowing what she meant, I told her I liked that response and then looked myself. It was true, a woman at the bottom of the staircase was on the floor, writhing and gyrating slowly as if drained of energy. Intrigued I approached and realized that she was one of Tino Sehgal’s living sculptures. I joined a small group of people, including Whitney Museum Director, Adam D. Weinberg, in watching the woman, silently. She elegantly strained, never standing, never crouching, her neck muscles popping out as her long hair fell over her face with each full body turn. Upon asking one of the guards, I learned that a new “dancer” comes into the space every two hours. Each choreographed piece is different, with varying speeds, movements and energies.
In similar vision of triumphant defeat (or in this case symbiotic achievement) is the video by artist Artur Zmijewski. The work features those who have had amputations and rely fervently on others to become mobile and to wash themselves. The subjects, all naked are shown in intimate settings, yet not sexualized. Each relies on others, one leans his body into the body of another, shifting his weight to walk, a three legged being.
I also enjoyed the paintings of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein who before he passed away in 1983 was unknown to those outside of his family yet continuously made art, obsessively, even going as far as to make brushes using his wife’s hair. His paintings, oil on board, are fantastical landscapes.
Lastly, I have to mention the video and muse for the entire exhibition, the film “Lessons of Darkness,” 1992 by Werner Herzog. He was able to film the burning of Kuwaiti oil fields that burned for several weeks in 1992 after they were set ablaze by the Iraq military. The composition and editing of the film is extremely powerful and exalts the sky with billowing black smoke. Based on the novel by the same name “After Nature” attempts to tap into a technological force and produce myth. Texts placed next to artwork both appropriated, written by New Museum curators, and found further the possibilities for misinterpretation. The agenda and focus of the exhibition is based on Herzog’s essay from 1999 where “facts only create rules, while fictions can lead to new ecstatic truths.”
In tapping in directly to the contemporary art world, the New Museum recognizes the yearning that we all as artists and individuals strive for: the hope for truth, yet in ways that sometimes extend beyond reality.