Greater New York, the third quinquennial exhibition organized by MoMA PS1 and The Museum of Modern Art, features 68 artists and collectives from metropolitan New York. Recently completed and specially commissioned works alike showcase diverse talents and media, including sculpture, painting, photography, film, and large-scale installations. A purposefully provocative exhibition, Greater New York emphasizes themes of trauma, identity, and ecological, political, and psychological exploration. Curators of the colorful 2010 iteration selected artists of varying degrees of repute through online submissions, studio visits, and recommendations, assembling a brimming observation of contemporary New York City culture.
Images, text, and an interview with participating artist Conrad Ventur after the jump…
Among the standout displays is David Brooks’ simulated tropical rain forest: utilizing two floors of the gallery, Brooks exhibits trees cast in concrete, destroyed and preserved at once. By allowing viewers to circumnavigate the exhibit and observe the piece from multiple floors, Brooks creates a semi-interactive experience that seems to be the hallmark of PS1’s 2010 incarnation.
Lucy Raven explores themes of globalization as well, documenting copper wire manufacture routes from Nevada mines to Chinese smelters, compiling 7,000 still photographs into an animated presentation that asks her audience what it means to be “wired.” Raven also displays her travel notes, informational pamphlets, and personal photographs to supplement her documentation.
Ishmael Randall Weeks similarly incorporates travel and geography into his work, with sculpture being his preferred medium. Weeks’ installation includes carvings honed from glued-together stacks of papers, books, and magazines to create topographically accurate coastlines or hills, in addition to plants, tables, and lights he assembles to lend the room an appearance of inhabitability.
Ryan McNamara’s piece is a work in progress; entitled “Make Ryan a Dancer,” it documents the artist’s daily dance lessons at MoMA PS1. McNamara’s work will culminate in a finale performance, during which he plans to utilize the entirety of the MoMA PS1 building space. McNamara’s video footage and written documentations exemplify a principle trend in this year’s exhibition: the creation and exhibition of art that chronicles or represents the artistic process.
David Benjamin Sherry’s technicolored self-portraits, serenely hued, reference S&M and the premise of renewal. Pieces including Soaring Yellow Morning Breath and Born Feeling Begins relay subject matter that is both serious and taboo, using simplified, streamlined palettes.
Hank Willis Thomas’ piece, Unbranded: Reflections in Black By Corporate America: 1967-2008, explores forty years of Black American representation in the media. Thomas displays forty advertisements printed and run in as many years, removing their textual particulars and adding his own titles to the timeline.
Photo courtesy of Conrad Ventur
The curators of Greater New York, Klaus Biesenbach, Connie Butler, and Neville Wakefield, have offered up workshops and studios in the PS1 building to working, exhibiting artists. AO had the opportunity to speak with Conrad Ventur in his studio about his piece, This is My Life (Shirley Bassey).
AO: Thanks for having to me your studio. What are you working on right now?
CV: PS1 opened up some studios for the artists in the Greater New York show—a couple of free rooms—so whenever we need to work on something over the next five months we can do it, planning and sharing the space with the other artists. Down the hall in the exhibition is my featured work, part of the quinquennial, that sort of kaleidoscopic, expanded, cinematic piece. And here in the studio I’m trying some new display methods for an ongoing project of mine. It’s essentially a series of re-performed Andy Warhol films from the sixties that has taken me a year to produce. I’m using the same actors he used. They are a kind of living link to some interests I have been exploring in my work over the last couple of years.
AO: Out of your various cinematic endeavors, how did you decide which to feature here at the Greater New York show?
CV: I did a project last year, with the same moving images, at a really tiny non-profit space on the Lower East side, called Forever & Today, and it’s literally the smallest gallery space in New York: I thinks it’s about seven feet wide and ten feet deep.
AO: Is that about the size of the space here at PS1?
CV: The space here is even smaller, which is great. It makes the work more unexpected. And it’s in the basement level, where people aren’t really prepared to see this type of work. The PS1 curators responded to some of my latest projects and we thought that situating it in a dark, small space would be perfect, so we decided to go with the Shirley Bassey.
AO: What attracted you to her footage in the first place?
CV: For this exhibition, the footage fits contextually with the work of the other artists here. The curators were interested in how we are using materials and looking at our process of art making. So we chose Shirley because of the sentiment of her songs and the way I handled that material. It fits in with the show, the sentiment of Live Your Life and Be Happy: those types of messages. And we project it in a special way, with three channels featuring this prismatic effect. It’s a good message and an interesting way to feature it for the public at large.
AO: Is Bassey someone you’ve admired for a long time?
CV: She’s a new discovery for me. Her song ‘This is My Life’ caught my attention about a year ago while I was noodling through YouTube, and I downloaded around a dozen different versions of it. She’d been performing that one song for thirty or forty years. She’s changed, but the lyrics have not. I thought it was amusing to put a few of these different versions together. Then, when I started to really research her, her biography struck me. She came form a mixed background: her father was Algerian and she was born in a very poor town in Wales, and out of the talent she had and the commitment she made to entertaining, she grew to become one of the biggest recording artists in Europe.
AO: When did you begin to use the technique featured in this exhibition, with the refracting crystal projections?
CV: They’re my prisms. I jokingly call it my “Crystal Method,” just as a nod to my coming of age in the late nineties. I loved that band. But they are prisms; I buy them in Chinatown, and they’re New Age prisms, meant to balance the energy in your house, or in negative spaces, and to bring you wealth and good health…which hasn’t yet been featured in the narrative of the work, but it’s definitely there. Eventually the New Age bit will reveal itself more and more in the work. But right now the content focuses on the message and the materials. Basically about two years ago I started a bricolage technique, where I’d put different materials together with the idea to create different ‘affect’ for the audience. ‘Affect’ was the name of the game. First I took a Marlene Dietrich live performance meant for a television broadcast, and grabbed that off the Internet, and spent a lot of time on the computer manipulating the file, so that if it was projected onto a disco ball, what you get is hundreds of little singing Marlene Dietrich’s spinning around the room to this anti-war song ‘Where Have all the Flowers Gone?’ I warped the file in After Effects, screwing around with it to really bend and multiply what was projected. Instead of a fracture, you get hundreds of little faces, which was a huge technological feat of mine. I put that in a black room and it was like being inside a music box. A while later in my studio I found out I could do the same thing with rotating prisms, without manipulating the computer files at all. I could just project it as is and turn the room into a kaleidoscope. People experience the song differently this way. I think it’s more emotional this way.
AO: Do you have a background in technology of this sort?
CV: My background is in photography. So now I guess there is a bit of an extension of how I think about portraiture and moving image that started about ten years ago. How moments, especially those that are part of a kind of ‘collective memory,’ are captured mechanically, cataloged and stored, and then released and re-presented or processed or multiplied is a key interest of mine. So many recorded experiences/performances get flattened, compressed and rewritten to the point of no return. In my latest installations, I feel like I’m giving these recordings a new life.
Greater New York [MoMA PS1]