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On View at the New Museum: The Scruffy Stuff

(Note: My first post on the new New Museum is here.)
The first show in the new New Museum’s three floors of gallery space, “Unmonumental,” is only one-third installed. A motley assortment of three-dimensional objects now occupies the floors and ceilings, but on Jan. 16 the pictures go on the walls and on Feb. 13 sound art will resonate. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to this sensory overload; the galleries seem quite intensely installed already.
As for the nature of the current show, “Unmonumental” translates for me as “unpretentious.” I like how Time magazine critic Richard Lacayo described the show’s focus yesterday in his Looking Around blog post—“flotsam assemblage.” One of the primary forebears for the artists in this show, senior curator Laura Hoptman told me, is Robert Rauschenberg.
Some of these objects have a strange, mutant beauty…
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Isa Genken, “Elefant,” 2006, Collection of Mari and Peter Shaw
…but many are more than a little rough around the edges:
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Gedi Sibony, “The Circumstance, The Illusion, and Light Absorbed as Light,” 2007, Courtesy the Artist
I indicated in my previous post that the New Museum’s scrappy display is a welcome corrective to the “market-obsessed, reputation-fixated artworld.” I didn’t mean to suggest, though, that these artists are artworld or art-market outsiders. Urs Fischer has been much in the public eye of late. And one of his works now at the New Museum has given Steve Cohen his New York museum quadrifecta. (Is that the next increment after “trifecta”?):
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Urs Fischer, “Untitled,” 2003, Steven A. Cohen Collection
It might be worth asking: Is there any New York art museum NOT currently showing a work owned by this voracious collector?
And this work, owned by Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer, can hardly be said to be operating under the market radar:
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Matthew Monahan, “Fundamental Shadow,” 2006, Collection of Mark Fletcher and Tobias Meyer
What’s more, at least one artist is already trying to reap commercial advantage from the New Museum’s exposure. I just received a press release, pegged to “Unmonumental,” about Shinique Smith‘s upcoming show at Moti Hasson Gallery, New York, as well as her inclusion in various art fairs and museums. Here’s an installation shot of her three “Unmonumental” clothing bundles:
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Shinique Smith’s Clothing Bundles
Still, most of the Unmonumentalists are uncatalogued by Sotheby’s or Christie’s. And the experimental nature of the show is further evidenced by the fact that only two works were borrowed from institutions (instead of artists, galleries or collectors). One of those is by Sam Durant, the oldest American in the show (born 1961):
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Sam Durant, “…For People Who Refuse to Knuckle Down,” 2004, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, gift of Blake Byrne
As the Durant piece suggests, “Unmonumental” is unafraid of political provocation. Another case in point—Lara Schnitger‘s ramshackle construction composed of polemical T-shirts:
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Lara Schnitger, “Rabble Rouser,” 2005, Courtesy the Artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York
Here’s a detail from the same piece:
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Perhaps because I’ve been writing so much about antiquities lately, some of my favorite pieces were the evocative, skeletal vessels containing old photos, by Kristen Morgin:
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Kristen Morgin, “Untitled Urn,” 2001, Courtesy the Artist and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles
But the piece that made me laugh was this one by Rachel Harrison, not because of the photo of a hirsute Mel Gibson on the right…
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Rachel Harrison, “Huffy Howler,” 2004, Courtesy the Artist and Green Naftali, New York
…but because of the handbags filled with rocks and bricks, hanging off the back end of the bike:
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For the complete list of artists in all three parts of “Unmonumental,” including those not yet on display, go here.
COMING SOON: The New Museum’s new building.

an ArtsJournal blog