Why Does the New Museum Suck?

I headed to the Bowery to check out the Paul Chan show and realized that I was two weeks too late…shit! I admit I didn’t check the dates and did one of those things that most of us that frequent museums or galleries do– figured I’d see it at least before it closes…oh well.

Regardless, I stayed and toured the New Museum’s AFTER NATURE show and I found myself wondering what the hell went wrong with this place?

I once expected the New Museum to push the envelope but now I don’t.

The ‘After Nature’ exhibition was essentially two floors of boredom (the third floor of the show opens next week and I can only hope there will be napping areas for visitors eager to survive another level).

The horse with its head in the wall (Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled, 2007) was the most arresting work on display. I imagined that the horse wasn’t dead as much as escaping the pretentious curatorial premise:

“After Nature” depicts a future landscape of wilderness and ruins. It is a story of abandonment, regression, and rapture—an epic of humanity coming apart under the pressure of obscure forces and not-so-distant environmental disasters.


The future is grim it keeps suggesting. Not all of us are that pessimistic. I also don’t buy the reason why Dana Schutz’s “Man Eating His Own Chest” (2005) painting is even in the show. It’s nice to see an actual oil painting in a New Museum exhibition but the cannibalizing metaphor was heavy-handed.

While Schutz’ canvas was well painted it appeared a tad too retro for me…reminding me of way to many other artists including Puerto Rican modernist Rafael Tufiño, whose work focused on the overlooked corners of San Juan and its poor residents.

The small cardboard room stashed off the puny stairwell between the fourth and third floors was curious–I can’t remember who it was by. The top of the wall is covered with cardboard cut to mimick the metal mesh of the museum’s exterior and a black model of the New Museum hangs upside down above with a sense of doom. Three stools sit in front of a small cathode-ray tube television. I didn’t feel like I was in a shanty town as much as something trying to hard.

I did like Nathalie Djurberg’s almost 6 min. long animation “My Name Is Mud” (2003) but I thought it’s placement on the stairway was a disservice to the work. (If you get a chance, read John Haber’s review of Djurberg‘s claymation porn from a group show in 2006, it’s quite good.)

Fortunately (for my sanity), I stopped by the Altoid Prize exhibition and discovered the work of Michael Patterson-Carver. His protest drawings are endearing and humanistic. They seemed to distill the complexity of human rights into two dimensions. Protest is eternal, he seems to say, it is a medium for people to create change.

The most complex piece was his “Guernica” (2007) (above). The Picasso masterpiece, which meditates on fascist violence in Franco Spain, is unveiled (or is it being covered up?) at the United Nations during Colin Powell’s sham presentation that led to the recent Iraq war.

Time is conflated as Polish, Albania, Romanian and other leaders are dressed in military fatigues reminiscent of the Cold War days, maybe it is a reference to the ridiculous pre-war illusion of a “coalition of the willing.”

US President George W. Bush stands in the back with his administration–Dick Cheney carries a shotgun. The Bushies are the ones unveiling/hiding the mural. The absence of protest in this work is notable and it gives the other images more poignancy.

As I left, I reminisced about the old New Museum on Broadway–which presented uneven but always interesting shows. During their stint in Chelsea, the shows were fine but in retrospect only the Andrea Zittel exhibition has stayed with me. Nowadays, I occasionally come across interesting individual works or artists at the new New Museum but the shows are, like Cattelan’s equine, headless and politically very safe. I really hope that changes…then again, I wish I hadn’t missed the Chan show.

6 responses to “Why Does the New Museum Suck?”

  1. email@email.co.uk Avatar

    first rate journalism

  2. […] art that, like Sebald’s writing, glories in bottomless malaise? I expect we’ll find out.” Hrag Vartanian was less forgiving: “The horse with its head in the wall (Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled, 2007) […]

  3. Ethan Avatar

    After going to the “Un-monumental” show, being ripped off, and wasting half an hour of my life, I made a pact with myself never to return. I’m not surprised in what you saw. However I am surprised that you are speaking the truth and being honest to the audience as it is not so common these days. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    1. hv Avatar

      Thanks for your vote of confidence.

  4. LS Avatar

    Yes, and also the “Art Hack” show where they actually censored every hack — eg, one web-based piece was shown but the NewMu wouldn’t allow it to be hooked up to the internet!

  5. LS Avatar

    It was sad b/c there were some really good pieces in the show — or would have been had they not been censored/ defanged.

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