I went to the opening of the New Museum on New York’s Lower East Side yesterday. It is an incredible space! I recommend taking the elevator to the 7th floor with the observation deck and working your way down through the huge concrete levels.
The current exhibition, Unmonumental, was pretty much that. It was an interesting commentary about objects, or to be more plain, it was a lot of “sculpture” made out of junk. There was an arrangement of a whole bunch of wooden chairs strung upwards into an arch, there were objects from public places, construction sites, and demonstrations, there were bundles of clothes, and a mattress covered in buttons.
The exhibit felt very dingy. It made me think of must and mildew, even though the objects were clean, and the brand-new museum space was immaculate. It conjured images of an old pent-up recluse hoarding boxes, cans, labels, clothing, signs, many more objects than there is any use for, just because they see that they have some tinge of value. Anyone else would see that it is just trash, and that to elevate something that is past its usefulness to the level of cherishing it, instead, is a kind of sickness.
It reminded me a lot of what artists were working on in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when I first moved to New York in 2002. Many of the artists in Williamsburg then were very poor and making things out of anything they found on the street. Their “art openings” were simply opening the metal grate of the store front that was doubling as their apartment, or draping sheets over portions of the dank loft spaces where they worked to create a “gallery” space.
It was interesting in the museum environment to be looking at things of this nature on display – held up, if you will, under a glamorous spotlight – and to experience the sensation of opening the door to a closet that has been closed for awhile and thinking to oneself, “Most of this has to go.”
It did make me think about how much we produce in our culture, and how disposable and replace-able most things are in the highly commercial lifestyle of present-day civilizations. What becomes of so many of those things that people find in the old closet and finally dispose of? They are not totally useless, even when they are no longer in use.
Despite the fact that I usually prefer my art intake to be beautiful and inspiring, I feel that it was quite an appropriate vibe to get from the opening of a museum on the Bowery – where my fellow New Yorkers and I have been salvaging discarded furniture from street corners for years. And after all, we all cling to something, don’t we?