Friday, February 21, 2014

Critique: Paweł Althamer at the New Museum, New York

Over the last few weeks a number of people had alerted me to a show at the New Museum that features an attempt at public art by allowing the public to paint and add to an original composition by the artist. Foiled in attending last week by a blizzard I was able to see the show last night and was excited to tour the New Museum for the first time as well. But with all the organization, talent and funding at hand for this exhibition, it just helped me realize that what we all do at #iThinkOutsideMyBox with our own resources has a more than special place in the redefinition of public art.

Below is the bulk of a critique I sent to a friend who had encouraged me to see the show. Also included is a link to a New York Times article that doesn't fall far away from my thoughts on the same subject.

Public art at the New Museum by Paweł Althamer and the public

Well, the reviews are in and the Paweł Althamer show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art was packed and that was just part of the problem. 

It was "pay as you wish" night and cheap hipsters from all around crowded the sidewalk outside and complained to staff inside that they really were somebody and should have better coat check access or a free coffee or "what can my press credentials get me?" Worse than obnoxious tourists. And the staff wasn't much better. Acting very precious at being docents at an arguably 'trendy' museum they were more stuffy than anyone at the Met, MoMA and Guggenheim combined. 

The museum itself is a horribly designed block-like structure with a viewer circulation system not unlike the Whitney with just one huge elevator and an adjoining tiny one to take passengers up and down the seven double-story structure and one barely-fire-code-wide back staircase that has trouble letting two people pass each other going up or down – so just getting to the top floor of the Althamer show is an ordeal. 

Once there, one is confronted by a large room with a paper painted teepee in the center and gobs of hip people's graffiti on the walls (which makes it decidedly unhip) – with no articulation at all of what should be left alone or painted over so on my night, a few weeks into the show, what was on the walls, painted by everybody, was largely just sludge – unaided by bland colors and truly clumsy brushes and rollers in pans – like they went to the 99 cent store and bought the stuff. Viewing photos of the room on the web, it was obvious that once there was some assemblance of order and actual art to it, but with all the white space having been taken up possibly weeks ago, people are forced to just roll over it and paint their own smiley face or similarly inspired inscription. There is little peace, insight or thought to either the individual scrawls or the entire room at large. You might as well just give everyone a hazmat suit and let them slide around the latex in it. One would get the same effect. 

The final two rooms of his show offer some interesting themes and pieces, but not the quiet or contemplative atmosphere one might need to properly digest them. "Free" night at this museum is just like opening the place to the same crowd as might inhabit a soccer match – complete with painted faces and boorish behavior. 

In general I thought the museum "tried too hard" to be edgy and contemporary – so much so that when you pack a place full of non-sequiters, mixed metaphors and mediums, it just ends up meaning nothing. The only way any piece of art could stand out would be just by being more weird or more shocking than the last – and barring live alternative sex shows or cadavers masquerading as some great insight to life only leaves the option of trying too hard and never quite getting there in terms of any actual emotion. 

So I was, maybe predictably, non-plussed. I found the museum and show as a whole over-reaching and underwhelming. 

Holland Cotter for the New York Times: "Is this sort of making-art-in-a-museum a new idea? No. Been done, and done, and I basically found the idea lame. Are the results “good” art? The question doesn’t mean much, since the method of production — multiauthored and overlaid — renders traditional criteria of values irrelevant. And anyway, with the possibility of periodic whitewashings during the run of the show, to provide fresh surfaces for new artists, whatever is there today is likely to be gone tomorrow."

I continue to move our non-profit 501(c)3 application through the paces and encourage your tax deductible donations through Fractured Atlas in the meantime. As the #iTOMB collection nears 10,000 it's imperative that we be able to access grant monies and serious support to take this Public Art concept to the next level - a complete public showing and painting that also becomes a collective social statement – much stronger and artistically relevant than the attempt above.

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