Doom Generational

Sam Pulitzer at the opening of “The Ungovernables”

Left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com) Right: Artist Jonathas de Andrade with Eungie Joo, curator of “The Ungovernables.” (Photo: Andy Guzzonatto)

THOSE ARTS WORKERS who find themselves cc’d in the Google Group discussion threads of the OWS–initiated Arts & Labor group are no doubt aware of a plan to shut down the Whitney Biennial in 2014 (a protest against its apparent exclusionary curatorial habits). No such clamor was raised against the imminent arrival—or presumed future, this being the year of Quetzalcoatl after all—of the New Museum’s now-signature triennial, the Generational. The second edition’s Palgrave Macmillan–worthy subtitle, “The Ungovernables,” set a high bar for how social behavior might manifest during Tuesday’s “VIP” Valentine’s Day preview. But of course no mic checks were announced or occupations incepted. Indeed, when pressed to gauge the ungovernability of those gathered, “soft” and “lighthearted” were the adjectives passed on by the few local artistic laborers in attendance.

No cards, candies, or flowers to be seen: Most everyone seemed to have rain-checked the seasonal veneration of courtly love. The preview festivities proceeded with the same proprieties that mark any other in this token Lower East Side tower. The one noticeable difference—its “soft ungovernability,” if you will—was the opening’s assembly of far-flung international artists (and “collectives,” to stick to the exhibition’s prescribed language). If not particularly raucous, this cosmopolitanism at least offered an atmosphere of the socially unfamiliar—well, unfamiliar to this stubborn New Yorker. Beyond speculations of the show’s carbon footprint (only four of the exhibition’s fifty-some artists are US-born), one local dealer compared the task of its curation to that of an air-traffic controller.

Left: Artist Wu Tsang. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com) Right: Dealer Sylvia Kouvali with collector Maja Hoffmann. (Photo: Andy Guzzonatto)

All these global bodies were clustered about, before, or even atop the exhibited work—be it Wu Tsang’s artful rehearsal footage screened in the basement, Slavs and Tatars’ FX-enhanced magic carpet–conversation bench, or Adrián Villar Rojas’s Forbidden Planet–esque megalith, which held down the kunsthalle’s spacious fourth floor alongside Danh Vo’s regal objectification of Lady Liberty. In the face of the masses squishing in and around the NuMu’s elevators, the formation of affinity groups (that social tactic common to both direct-action protests and employee seminars) became a practical necessity when navigating the evening’s considerable conversational prospects. A lazy anthropologist observing the patterns of these corpuscular groups might have notated them thus: bar, socialize, art, wall text, socialize, art, wall text, repeat.

Above it all, on the museum’s scenic balcony floor, projections furnished by two of the triennial’s corporate sponsors, Canadian clothier Joe Fresh and Milagro tequila, framed the panoramic vantage of Lower Manhattan; it was like an establishing shot swiped from Blade Runner (or perhaps, given its similar vintage, a Krzysztof Wodiczko). This one-night-only positioning of advertising images—company logos, Mexican farmhands harvesting agave—on top of the discursively responsible works exhibited below evinced not only the triennial’s thoroughly postnational concerns but also the sine qua non coupling of artist’s studio and the boardroom.

Migrating from one top floor to another, the evening’s “soft” and “lighthearted” motif continued unabated at the event’s official afterparty at the Standard hotel’s eponymous (and cutely paradoxical) Top of the Standard bar. Guests swayed to the lite mainstream funk of Shakira and Jamiroquai offered by the evening’s DJ, D’Marquesin. Nourished by truffle-oiled grilled cheese and hazelnut quiche and, of course, the requisite open bar, the party’s vibes slowly peaked into the red around 11 PM—an ass-slap here, an affinity group amorously consolidating its ranks over there—until all of sudden a five-foot-tall, jewel-encrusted martini glass appeared on a stage installed by the Garden State–facing windows and the music segued to flapper-era jazz. Apparently, and wholly incidental to the New Museum’s evening programming, the bar’s carousers were now in for a rare Valentine’s-themed burlesque from former Mrs. Marilyn Manson, Dita von Teese. Like it or not, the dipping of her tabloid-friendly rear into this tacky prop occupied, as it were, the unofficial end to the latest Generational’s official opening. Did this crowning event mark a sour confrontation between marketable culture’s hard, spectacular bodies and those “politicized” bodies trying to “soften” power’s discursive stockades? Or did it express a firmly entrenched commonality among these distinctive bodies? Whether soft, hard, or somewhere in between, the inauspicious charm of a neighboring diner was this author’s valentine in the end.

Left: Artist Lisa Ruyter and Payam Sharifi on Slav and Tatars’ PrayWay, 2012. (Photo: Andy Guzzonatto) Right: Dita von Teese. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)

Left: Artist Julia Dault. (Photo: Andy Guzzonatto) Right: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach with dealer Jose Kuri and artist Adrián Villar Rojas. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com)

Left: Richard Flood, New Museum director of special projects. (Photo: Andy Guzzonatto) Right: Artist Abigail DeVille. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com)

Left: Critic Jerry Saltz and curator Clarissa Dalrymple. Right: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen with artist Glenn Ligon. (Photos: Andy Guzzonatto)

Left: Artist Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Right: Collectors Phil Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons. (Photos: Andy Guzzonatto)