The Good, the Bad, and the Greater New York
Greater New York at MoMA PS1

If the advent of the proliferous biennial wasn’t enough to bring artists and art enthusiasts to the brink of collective delirium, now we have the continuation of MoMA PS1’s quinquennial to take heed of; a seemingly more than immeasurable undertaking by MoMA PS1 and MoMA curators to bring into the forefront a survey of art produced in the metropolitan New York area during the last five years. Not an easy task at hand. Once again for its third installment, Greater New York bites more than it can chew, most notably to present in one continuous (and might I say exhausting) rundown the best and most recent production of a select group of artists. Organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Connie Butler and Neville Wakefield, the exhibition comprised not only a five-year survey, but also live performances, on-site art making and independent curatorial endeavors.

Spanning the whole three floors of the PS1 building in Long Island City, Greater New York initially seems too daunting of a task. The first floor’s Rotating Gallery 4 is an interesting start, where each month one young independent curator was invited to curate a small show. The last one, curated by Clarissa Dalrymple, presented a generational show with works by Andrew Gbur, Michael Joaquín-Grey and Ryan Sullivan. Sullivan creates textured paintings where the interaction of different chemicals makes the surface wrinkle and crack, producing a seemingly lunar landscape that reclaims the surface of the work by conveying a sense of three-dimensionality.

Moving on to the second floor galleries, a collection of ‘unbranded’ magazine ads by Hank Willis Thomas, showed in its entirety here for the first time in New York, proved to be a thought-provoking look into the ways race is portrayed in the media across generations. Unbranded: Reflections in Black Corporate America takes magazine ads ranging from Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 to Barrack Obama’s 2008 election. Willis Thomas has digitally eliminated any traces of corporate branding to focus our attention on the connotations of each image. There were also compelling works by William Cordova and Zipora Fried. Cordova’s installation of “appropriated” or more aptly defined stolen record sleeves from an undisclosed Ivy League university composed a labyrinthian homage to Peruvian writer Octavio Paz. While on the opposite end, Zipora Fried’s poetic and conceptual installations offered repetitive and obsessive interpretations on everyday objects. Mostly known for her contemplative large-scale graphite drawings, these works are just as captivating and also possess a delicate yet forceful sentiment. Chère Maman is comprised of a table covered underneath with glass bottles, while her Armoire, elegantly stabbed in the back with hundreds of knives, proposes a more violent but subdued rendition of femininity.

Other galleries on the second and third floors were not as engaging. There were many unimaginative and frankly poorly executed works. But rummaging through the bad and the ugly, there were some pieces that made the hunt worth while. For instance Naama Tsabar’s sound sculpture Untitled Speaker Wall provided an amusing counterpoint to an otherwise dull floor. Other works that stand out are Brian O’Connel’s conceptual projection and Vlatka Horvat’s cut-out and inverted photographs To go on (around). To its credit, Greater New York offers a more democratized version of the typical survey show. The selection is based on artist submissions and studio visits relieving part of the drab factor mostly associated with the quintessential biennial. But it brings forth important questions regarding the effectiveness of these type of shows. The biennial has become an over commercialized (and even touristic) venue for art showing. Will Greater New York endure a similar fate? Perhaps now is the time to return to the curated show.

Originally published on ARTPULSE Magazine