Oh Jesus

Michael Wang on the opening of “Younger than Jesus” at the New Museum

New York

Left: Artists Ryan Trecartin and Liz Rywelski. Right: Whitney Biennial curator Francesco Bonami with “Generational” cocurator Massimiliano Gioni. (All photos: Ryan McNamara)

I ARRIVED TUESDAY EVENING at the New Museum’s inaugural triennial, “The Generational: Younger than Jesus,” an appropriately Eastertide roundup of fifty vernal artists, to the sounds of stomping feet, shattering glass, and the twangs of Shahzad Ismaily’s noise performance—all part of artist Liz Glynn’s 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project. The hullabaloo marked the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths, which, according to Glynn’s accelerated history—her cardboard and hot-glued Eternal City had been “founded” the previous evening—was timed to occur precisely as the “Generational” opened its doors for the invite-only vernissage at 6:30 PM. I walked in just in time to see the fiberboard model of the first-century BC “Castra Praetoria” that I’d assembled earlier in the day, as a member of Glynn’s volunteer construction crew, battered to pieces by a couple of overeager adolescents.

While the exhibition’s premise provocatively assured no artists over thirty-three (Christ’s age on the Cross), the teenagers trashing Glynn’s miniature city installed in the ground-floor Joan and Charles Lazarus Gallery looked to have been half that age and were safely led out of the museum before the festivities really kicked off. They took their hormone-fueled angst with them. While in the past few years, the youth-infatuated art world has thrilled to a certain brand of marketable hooliganism, this exhibition’s young artists did their best to look grown up (with the prominent exceptions of Ryan Trecartin and AIDS 3-D’s Internet-inspired infantilism: the former represented by his gigglingly virtuosic DIY costume extravaganzas and the latter by a monolith in which had been inscribed the neon letters OMG). The most auspicious model is the appearance of the global flaneur—more researcher than rebel—promised in Cyprien Gaillard’s video of European housing projects and Liu Chuang’s catalogue of items bought off anonymous subjects encountered in the streets of Beijing.

Left: Artist Brendan Fowler. Right: “Generational” cocurator Lauren Cornell (left) with the Roysdon family and artist Emily Roysdon and Lawen Mohtadi.

Bars set up on the first and seventh floors sandwiched the exhibition spaces and forced a steady stream of short-of-breath opening-goers to discard their Campari cocktails and climb the museum’s narrow staircase or huddle into the two elevators. I worked my way through the galleries from the bottom up, past Brendan Fowler stationed in front of his prints and posters at the entrance to the second floor (explaining the “voodoo stress” embedded in the work), by the bare limbs and shock of red hair of Chu Yun’s drugged model tucked under a white duvet, and up to the third floor, where the nu-rave crew clamped on headphones to watch their own performances in Trecartin’s sprawling video installation sans the distractions of opening-night chatter and oblivious to the sleeping middle-aged visitor in a pink chaise longue—whom many, peering closely, mistook for an element of Trecartin’s suburban-inspired set. I finally made it to the Sky Room, where the post-thirty-three crowd had assembled (Jeffrey Deitch, Clarissa Dalrymple, and David Salle had all dropped by to scope out the show), as well as the “new” old guard—with “Generational” artists Cory Arcangel and Josh Smith assuming the role of elder statesmen among the recent art school grads. The lineup included new arrivals like twenty-two-year-old Mark Essen, who just finished his undergrad at Bard last year. He designs video games, an artistic genre—post-Arcangel—now in its second generation. I futilely tried my hand at Flywrench, Essen’s lo-fi outer-space game navigated by an old Nintendo controller. Essen, of a generation reared on PlayStations and GameCubes, assured me that the game’s simple, geometric graphics belie its difficulty.

Exhibition cocurator Lauren Cornell directed me to the basement as the musician Koudlam took up a microphone as part of a collaborative performance with Gaillard. The artist screened found footage of the construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial while Koudlam played with his Ray-Bans, fiddled with a laptop, sipped white wine, and, occasionally, sang. With TNT blowing up the Black Hills behind him, he reached for a bottle of spring water at the lectern and, garnering only scattered audience cheers, poured the contents over his head in a final flourish. This wasn’t a rock-show crowd, though. Only half-joking, Foxy Production’s John Thomson observed, “The artists’ parents are all here.”

Left: Artist LaToya Ruby Frazier with “Generational” cocurator Laura Hoptman. Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips.

Left: Artist Mark Essen with family. Right: Artist Icaro Zorbar.

Left: Jan Fletcher with collector Randy Slifka. Right: Musicians J. D. Samson and Sia.

Left: Artist Tris Vonna-Michell. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

Left: A security guard in Ryan Gander's uniform. Right: Curators Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Christian Rattemeyer with artist Matt Keegan.

Left: Artist Adam Pendleton (left) with The Kitchen's Rashida Bumbray (right). Right: AIDS-3D's Nik Kosmas.

Left: Dealer Kristina Kite with artist Lisa Williamson. Right: Curator Neville Wakefield.

Left: Carlos Quirarte with 303 Gallery's Mariko Munro. Right: Dealer Jesse Washburne-Harris with Joel Wachs, director of the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Left: Actress Emma Roberts. Right: Artists Faye Driscoll and Dynasty Handbag (center).