Days of Future Past

Paige K. Bradley at the opening of the 4th “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1

Left: Peter Eleey, MoMA PS1 curator and associate director of exhibitions and programs. Right: Artist Louise Lawler, art historian and curator Douglas Crimp, and artist Susan Cianciolo. (Except where noted, all photos: Matthew Carlson)

“GREATER NEW YORK,” MoMA PS1’s signature “quinquennial,” seems more like a Hunger Games Quarter Quell. A broad cross-section of artists is reunited to present an image of just what New York’s whole deal is these days. Judgments are made, and maybe by the end someone will make it out alive. This kind of survey show was once designed to take the temperature of a scene. Well, you don’t check your temperature unless you feel ill, and anyone who lives in New York knows all is not well in the state of us (especially if you made the grave mistake of going to college while poor in the past decade…).

It’s Friday morning. The show is up and the curators are talking: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach reminisces about how the title came from a map curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev had in the 1990s, when they were first gaming out the idea with PS1 founder Alanna Heiss. “Let’s find out how young artists live now in New York,” sayeth the absent Christov-Bakargiev via the present Biesenbach. Peter Eleey, who curated the current iteration with Thomas Lax and Mia Locks and the art historian Douglas Crimp, notes MoMA PS1’s “role in the changing city” and expresses concern about “the ’70s and ’80s presence in contemporary New York.”

Left: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA PS1 chairman Agnes Gund, and MoMA associate curator of media and performance art Thomas J. Lax. Right: Artist Kevin Beasley.

The show’s fourth edition is generationally expansive—the earliest dated pieces seem to be Mary Beth Edelson prints from 1973—as opposed to the physically expansive concentration of works by young bucks installed in the galleries in shows past. It features artists that no one could mistake for “emerging”: Chantal Akerman (RIP), Charles Atlas, Donald Moffett, Howardena Pindell, and Glenn Ligon, to name a few. This is key to their approach this round, a reaction to a reputation for showing hot, new artists that get the market buzzing. To whit, Eleey offers that they purposely delayed releasing the full list of artists until the week of the show in order to “humble” it and make it seem “less related to trends.” (Perhaps a nobler excuse than “because it wasn’t ready”?)

But trending away from the current has instead thrown us headlong into the wistful past. Throughout, the curatorial sweet spot of late-’70s and early-’80s work that engaged the city rears its corroded, haloed head. There’s Alvin Baltrop’s beautifully cruise-y photos of Manhattan’s West Side piers and the men who loved to love there, James Nares’s seminal 1976 film Pendulum, and Henry Flynt’s documentation of SAMO graffiti around downtown. These are golden works, but how can the preserved luminescence of the past not cast a pall over the present, especially in New York, where there will always be someone on hand to let you know how great things used to be? “Greater” New York indeed.

Left: Artist Sadie Benning. Right: Musician Dev Hynes with artist Christine Sun Kim.

Who and where we are now, the show seems to suggest, has everything to do with real estate transformations that began in the 1970s, a thesis also advanced by Crimp and Lynne Cooke’s 2010 Reina Sofía exhibition “Mixed Use, Manhattan,” from which the current GNY borrows several works. This might help explain several otherwise confusing juxtapositions, such as the repeating documentary photographs of Gordon Matta-Clark’s cuts into the PS1 building during its inaugural 1976 show, one of which is installed next to Collier Schorr’s leaning boards emblazoned with model Jordan Barrett. That said, I think the third floor’s Eckhaus Latta installation, in a room next to choreographer Jen Rosenblit’s ongoing performance Clap Hands/Solo Studies, itself sandwiched between two billboard-style Louise Lawler photographs, feels most true to the present’s messy collisions of fashion and bodies and institutional politics. And as a friend admits, “It’s hard to hate a show with not one but two appearances by Lady Bunny.” (And thirty years apart at that—from Nelson Sullivan’s 1985 video Bunny Chase to Atlas’s 2015 portrait.)

Bunny doesn’t make an appearance at the night’s private opening and dinner, a relatively sparse affair, perhaps due to the raging rain that lets loose thirty minutes prior to doors. The most loyal foot soldiers make the trek. Artists in the show like Kevin Beasley, Howardena Pindell, Su Friedrich, Peter Saul, Adam McEwan, Nancy Shaver, and Sadie Benning take in the array. Benning admits she hasn’t seen her stuff up yet. Eckhaus Latta’s Zoe Latta says the same when I compliment her installation. She dazedly inquires about its location, and I offer a vague approximation that I hope puts the wind back in her sails. Curators lead around museum patrons Phil and Shelley Fox Aarons, Clarissa Dalrymple gasps in delight at the collective KIOSK’s expansive, uh, kiosk of objets d’art and trinkets, and artist Christine Sun Kim demonstrates her interactive sound installation with Dev Hynes.

Left: Artist Ryan McNamara, Douglas Crimp, and choreographer Jen Rosenblit. (Photo: Stuart Comer) Right: Writers Lynne Tillman and Andrew Durbin.

Once we crunch through the slippery wet gravel out to the steamy VW (eek) Dome, we encounter a Teutonic menu of pretzels and sausages piled in mounds before the now comfortably oversize crowd. Without the pressure of assigned seating, everyone comes and goes as they please. Eleey rises to dole out a speech that starts with “I didn’t want to do this show…” and ends on a reflection about W. H. Auden that I can’t quite absorb after that opening remark.

Biesenbach brings in more tables to accommodate the overflow. We might be in Long Island City, but everyone is tossing back Manhattans. By the time the settings are cleared, the crowd is loose and antsy and in the mood for spectacle, which a few gumptious individuals including Mike Eckhaus, Rosenblit, and (suddenly shirtless) GNY alum Ryan McNamara are happy to provide. The latter two drag a beaming Crimp, sporting a Susan Cianciolo–deconstructed shawl, onto the tables for an impromptu runway show, then dance on said tables until they collapse under the weight of all that attitude. Would Lawler join in? “No way!” she squeals, and runs off to fill her wine glass with milk. Is this how artists live now in New York?

Left: Artist Su Friedrich. Right: MoMA PS1 vice-chairman Philip Aarons with Shelley Fox Aarons.

Left: Curator Clarissa Dalrymple. Right: Oscar Edelson with artist Mary Beth Edelson.

Left: Designer Mike Eckhaus of Eckhaus Latta. Right: Choreographer Will Rawls and artist Morgan Bassichis.

Left: Artist Howardena Pindell with dealer Garth Gretna and director Bryan Davidson Blue. Right: Effie Bowen, Addys Gonzalez, and Jen Rosenblit. (Photo: David Velasco)

Left: Sally Saul and artist Peter Saul. Right: Artist Nancy Shaver and dealers Abby Messitte and Derek Eller.

Left: Artist Yoshiaki Mochizuki. Right: Dinner in the dome.