New York

Marta Minujín, Menesunda Reloaded (detail), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Marta Minujín, Menesunda Reloaded (detail), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Marta Minujín

After three years of working in Paris, the Argentinean artist Marta Minujín organized an exhibition of her sculptures, made with pillows and discarded mattresses on wooden structures, and invited other artists to “destroy” them by adding materials evocative of their own practices. She then burned everything. Her first “happening,” called La destrucción (The Destruction), 1963, stemmed from her belief that “art was a way of intensifying life, of having an impact on the viewer by shaking him up. . . . Why, then, was I going to keep my work? . . . So that it could die in cultural cemeteries, the eternity in which I had no interest? I wanted to live and make others live.”

La menesunda (meaning “chaos” or “confusion” in Lunfardo, Buenos Aires slang) followed two years later in Buenos Aires. Made in collaboration with the artist Rubén Santantonín (1919–1969), with contributions from the artists David Lamelas, Leopoldo Maler, Floreal Amor, Rodolfo Prayón, and Pablo Suárez, the piece was created in a little more than three months and was open to the public for just fifteen days in 1965 at the Instituto Torcuato di Tella, the center of the city’s neo-avant-garde scene. But the elaborate and technologically sophisticated work was not built to last. Its restaging at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires in 2015 required two years of intensive archival research and refabrication, with Minujín’s oversight, and resulted in “La menesunda según Marta Minujín” (La menesunda According to Marta Minujín). Menesunda Reloaded at the New Museum marked the work’s US debut and the artist’s first New York solo exhibition in decades.

The environment here comprised eleven distinct yet interrelated situations with “multisensory, aesthetic, and ethical stimuli,” as the art historian and curator Sofía Dourron characterized them, including “The TV Tunnel,” with seven television monitors playing, among other things, television broadcasts from La menesunda’s first iteration; “The Bedroom,” in which two performers acted like lovers tucked away for the night; “The Neon Tunnel,” full of brightly colored fluorescent signs and bustling sounds inspired by Calle Lavalle (a busy thoroughfare in downtown Buenos Aires); a Miss Ylang beauty salon, its walls covered in foam, cotton balls, and beauty products, with performers playing estheticians inside a space designated “The Woman’s Head”; and “The Intestines,” a spiraling path with low ceilings and walls lined with pink-plastic encasements that led to a screening room, which could be entered through a small, even rectum-like, passage.

To say that La menesunda is about either media or consumerism isn’t quite right. It addresses both by situating the body in endless loops of consumption that have infiltrated our most intimate selves. Viewers carried with them the sights and sounds of the TVs through the domestic scene in “Bedroom,” as well as the intense impressions of the “Neon Tunnel” lights as they descended the corporeal staircase of “The Woman’s Head.” A barely noticeable peephole in this area, marked by a tiny sign that read look, offered a glimpse into a mirror, reflecting one’s eye and the exterior of the “Head.” “The Intestines” churned us through the passage. We consumed La menesunda as it consumed us.

As problematic as it is to re-create any ephemeral artwork in a “cultural cemetery” (to use Minujín’s term), the artificial accuracy caused tension, with performers wearing 1960s-style wigs or reading English-language books covered with dust jackets in Spanish, for instance. But the introduction of Minujín’s work to new audiences overshadowed these shortcomings. Even if we have become accustomed to screens and spectacle, this work yielded surprises. With glowing lights, mirrored surfaces, CCTV monitors, and spaces that seemed primed for photo ops, La menesunda indiscriminately encouraged selfies. Of course, we had no choice but to engage: Crossing its tangerine-pink Plexiglas threshold—a cutaway of a human form—we became agents not only of media, but of La menesunda itself, enlivening it anew.