April 14th, 2009


The Jesus of Generation OMG

The Generational: Younger Than Jesus is a group show at New York's elegant SANAA-designed New Museum, a triennial featuring fifty artists from 25 different countries. The show, which opened last week and continues until July (it'll be the first show I get to see at the New Museum; the place hadn't quite opened last time I was in New York), is a survey of artists under the age of 33, the year of Christ's death. Up there on the cross, Christ cried out "Oh my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And some (Jerry Saltz, for instance, taking his cue from a piece by Berlin-based artist Daniel Keller) are calling this "Generation OMG".

The New Museum's video ad for the show features Post-It notes scribbled with buzz-phrases supposedly characteristic of the below 33 generation: idealistic, multiethnic, post-racial, recycler, Facebook generation, hipster, green, indie, atheist, drama queen, SMS, Harajuku Girls, soulless, stalker, nomadic, manic depressive, ADHD, patriot, fake, individualistic, target audience, peer-to-peer learner, No Logo...

James Kalm has done one of his video reports on the opening, and mentions that the New might be trying to steal some thunder from the Whitney Biennial in this new triennial, trying to harness some of the uptown institution's youthful energy. Like the Whitney, the New show has some artists crossing over from the musical counter-culture; a Brendan Fowler (aka BARR) piece references AIDS Wolf, for instance. And it's good to see my favourite Glaswegian art documentarist Luke Fowler's RD Laing film getting another airing.

Reviewers like Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker and Jerry Saltz in New York magazine seem pretty unanimous that the star of the show -- the Jesus of Generation OMG, if you like -- is gay, Philly-based, RISD-educated Ryan Trecartin.

Now, Ryan Trecartin had one of his insane, Paul McCarthy-ish, Warhol-films-ish YouTube-like (and YouTube-available) psychotic soap operas in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Working there every day as the Unreliable Tour Guide, I soon noticed that the monitor featuring the work attracted a younger, cooler, more respectful crowd than anything else in the show, and there was nothing I could do to distract or amuse them. So I made a circle around it; Trecartin's fast-edited video with its queasily-impressive video effects and its clever scripting couldn't be satirized.

Saltz reports that Trecartin's two-room installation at the New "involves a jet-plane interior, hanging suitcases, and videos of crazy kids of indistinct gender talking about tourism, time shares, and the credit crunch. Seeing it is like being patched into all of the computers in the world at once. Trecartin’s ecstatic poetics of overload, color, and density promise to influence a generation of artists". Serious talk.

Reviewing Trecartin's I-BE AREA (2007), a feature-length (and crazy-making) video available in its entirety (should you have nerves of steel) on Ubu.com, veteran New York Times art reviewer Holland Cotter emphasized the gay qualities of the work:

"We're in a house of many tight, messy rooms. In the suburbs? Cyberspace? Hard to say. Anyway, it's night. A door bangs open. A girl, who is also a boy, dashes in, talking, talking. Other people are already there, in gaudy attire, dire wigs and makeup like paint on de Koonings. Everyone moves in a jerky, speeded-up, look-at-me way and speaks superfast to one another, to the camera, into a cellphone. Phrases whiz by about cloning, family, same-sex adoption, the art world, the end of the world, identity, blogging, the future. Suddenly indoors turns into outdoors, night into day, and we're at a picnic, in dappled sunshine, with a baby. Then this all reverses, and we're indoors again. A goth band is pounding away in the kitchen. The house is under siege. Hysteria. Everyone runs through the walls."

(The running-through-the-walls bit is particularly impressive, I have to agree.)

"For queer artists of Mr. Trecartin's generation," Cotter continues, "cross-dressing, cross-identifying and cross-thinking are part of a state of being, not statements of political position. Like the work of John Waters and Jack Smith, his art is about just saying no to life as we think we have seen it and saying yes to zanier, virtual-utopian possibilities."

I get a camp aggression towards normality from the films -- all the characters seem exaggeratedly obnoxious, the settings ugly, heightened from normality into a kind of farce-normality. And yet the pushing-into-garishness of normal suburban ugliness (which happens also formally, on the level of edits and video effects and dialogue) actually becomes weirdly compelling, and suggests a utopia of artificiality, a kind of peacockery of ugliness which becomes a new sort of beauty. I don't think you could really ask anything more of a 28 year-old artist. Hail the new Jesus of OMG!