Player 5, First floor gallery, Installation view, New Museum, NY
Import/Export Funk Office, 1991-93,
Diedrich Diederichsen with Greg Tate, A.J. and Andrea Clarke, Color, sound; 60 min
Photograph by Katy Hamer

Where were you in 1993? It’s a question that many are now considering both before and after seeing NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, currently on view at the New Museum until May 26th, 2013. Curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions, Gary Carrion-Murayari, Curator, Jenny Moore, Associate Curator, and Margot Norton, Assistant Curator, the show features over seventy-five artists and spans all five floors. Nari Ward’s Amazing Grace, a large installation made of hundreds of abandoned baby carriages is being shown in conjunction with NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star in the parallel, unfinished gallery titled Studio 231.

January 1993: Bill Clinton was sworn in as the 42nd President, the first bombing takes place at the World Trade Center in New York, Václav Havel was elected President of the Czech Republic, the Buffalo Bills became the first team to lose during Super Bowl XXVII for the third consecutive year in a row and Grunge music was all the rage. The title of this exhibition takes it’s name from an album by Sonic Youth. The band, formed in New York in 1981 by Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, has little (if anything) to do with the show but functions as a foreshadowing of sorts, leading the viewer into what is a representation of a moment in time that relatively speaking, was not so long ago. Many of us weren’t yet born, including (probably) several interns at the New Museum. Catering to a generation that looks back on the 90s with a particular nostalgia, viewers will each bring their own past experiences  from this year and like with all exhibitions, make a judgement call.
New Museum Curator, Massimiliano Gioni (Right) in conversation with a member of the press
Photograph by Katy Hamer

In 1993, Massimiliano Gioni was twenty years old and baby doll dresses, also part of the Grunge movement and worn by Courtney Love, along with platform shoes made a comeback. Within the art community artists were spending time reflecting a sense of political aloofness. Felix Gonzalez-Torres was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. It was a time when AIDS was still both taboo and commonplace. Having been too late for so many, artists and many others alike died before they could be helped. Today, twenty years later, it was announced that after aggressive, experimental treatment a toddler who was born with the HIV virus may have been cured. These times they are a changin’ but not for all.  The fourth floor of the New Museum is a still meditation. In the center of the room is a string of light bulbs extended from ceiling to floor by Gonzalez-Torres. He died from AIDS-related illness in 1996 and often made work that was a metaphor for life and the fleeting preciousness of it all; a light bulb goes out.

Aesthetically, the curators did a fantastic job on the fourth floor and it alone is the heartbeat of the exhibition. A warm glow fills the room as does a sound piece by Honolulu born Kristin Oppenheim (b.1959) titled “Sail on Sailor”, 1993 a melodic loop of the artist singing lines from the popular Beach Boys track in a way that removes familiarity and renders the song almost unrecognizable.  Rather than a pop song it is a prayer, a hope and a wish; Sail on, sailor sail on.  The result of these two works along with the large stretch of bright orange, wall-to-wall carpet by Rudolf Stingel (b.1956) constructs what is a 3-Dimensional painting that one can  enter and experience. Rather than have stretcher bars, the walls act as a frame for the scene. Stingel has worked with carpeting since 1991 and is interested in the happenstance of those who walk on the surface, leaving his or her mark with each step. He installed this type of ‘painting’ for the second time in the Aperto section of the Biennale di Venezia in 1993. The painting (carpet) and the bulbs are constantly in a state of informed change. Both need to be activated in order to function and fulfill the artists intention.

Installation view, Fourth Floor, New Museum, NY
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Couple), 1993, Lightbulbs, porcelain light sockets extension cords
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey R. Winter
Untitled, 1992-93, Billboards, Collection Sammlung Hoffmann, Berlin
Rudolf Stingel, Untitled, 1991/2012, Carpet
Courtesy the artist, Paula Cooper Gallery, NY and Massimo de Carlo, Milan
Photograph by Katy Hamer

Taking the back staircase from the fourth floor to the third floor, one will come across Mothers Under Surveillance [MUS], 1993 by Julia Scher. This piece, shown on a monitor, installed and hanging from the ceiling broadcasting a live feed by way of a hidden camera and switching back to what looks like the interior of a nursing home. The piece is obviously dated. It hums with the excitement of voyeuristic practice and the technology that made it possible. Now we have Facetime, Skype which can be used even when transient with a smart phone and satellites programmed to pinpoint our whereabouts at any given moment. Within the structure of the piece and the sequence of images that alternate between live stream and a static video of somewhere else, one can’t help but be brought in and then brought out. I peered into the screen all at once giddy at seeing my own image and also curious about the interspersed scenes being displayed. By the title alone I found myself wondering if the women on the screen were related to the artist (Mother? Grandmother?) or if it was meant to be a projection of time and age whereas we all are a part. Either way the work falls into the sequence of relational aesthetics and infallibility of ones own demise. An evident signal that NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star is a show produced now, a look back not an exact reflection of a time.

Hannah Wilke, Intra-Venus #7 — February 20-August 8th, 1992, from “Intra-Venus,” 1992-93
Installation view, New Museum, New York
Photograph by Katy Hamer

Teetering along the lines of ritualistic vigor instead of existential disparity are the third and second floors with works by Hannah Wilke and Derek Jarman respectively, (along with many others but I will focus on these). Hannah Wilke was most known for her series of performative self-portraits made in the 1970s. The black and white images focused on the artists’ gaze into the lens and most notably, she intermittently placed chewed gum in the shape of vagina’s on her body. The works were a contrast between raw sexuality and the attempt of the artist to downplay her own beauty. In 1991 Wilke was diagnosed with lymphoma and chose to revisit the self-portrait this time bloated and showing signs of treatment. Wilke passed away in 1993 from cancer and the portraits are an eerie and beautiful remembrance of a woman present in her skin at various stages of her life.

Similar yet less literal in it’s visual interpretation of the concept of ‘portraiture’, is Derek Jarman’s Blue, 1993 an audio piece accompanied by a glowing blue screen. The piece is literally an audio self-portrait, one that addresses issues of then British attitude toward homosexuality. Jarman, like Gonzales-Torres, passed away from an AIDS-related illness in 1994. He organized a group of narrators to accompany the constant blue tone of the film including Tilda Swinton, John Quentin, Brian Eno and others.
The film features a candidness likening to a certain level of intimacy that isn’t needed to be seen but rather felt. “Blue” was inspired by the artists visit to the Tate Museum in 1974 for an exhibition of Yves Klein. It is an homage, icing on the cake marking a career and a vulnerable engaging work that presents visual silence and audio stimulation.

Derek Jarman, Blue, 1993, Installation view
35 mm film transferred to Blu-ray, sound, color, 79 min
New Museum, New York
Photograph by Katy Hamer

~Derek Jarman, (b. 1932 Northwood, UK- d. 1994 London, UK)

In time,
No one will remember our work
Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud
And be scattered like
Mist that is chased by the
Rays of the sun
For our time is the passing of a shadow
And our lives will run like
Sparks through the stubble.

I place a delphinium, Blue, upon your grave.

Julia Scher, Mothers Under Surveillance [MUS], 1993
Live camera, switcher, nineteen-inch monitor
and bracket, cable, one DVD for fake feed A&B
Courtesy of Esther Schipper, Berlin
Installation view, New Museum, NY
Photograph by Katy Hamer

NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, currently on view at the New Museum until May 26th, 2013.More soon