When I looked forward at the beginning of the year to “The Generational: Younger than Jesus”, the New Museum’s first edition of its international triennial, I said I was hoping for “some spectacularly hit-and-miss controversy”. Now that I’ve seen the show I can confirm that the work it includes ranges from the not-quite-sublime to the utterly-ridiculous. Perhaps that’s what we have to expect from a show that, as the museum keeps reminding us, brings together something like 300 works by 50 artists from 25 countries, who have nothing in common but the fact that they are less than 33 years old. It’s also what we might actually want from a show with title as cocky as “Younger than Jesus”. (Incidentally Lisa Phillips told me that she’d been delighted to hear that someone has organized another show over on the other side of The Bowery called “Wiser than God”, and featuring artists over 75!) “Younger than Jesus” includes a banana peel, a drugged girl, and displays of belongings bought from people in the street, but there is also a lot of quite traditional painting, sculpture, photography, and sound and video work. In fact, I suspect that one complaint might be that this is a show that ought to be a bit more controversial.
Still, it is by far the best of the large-scale group shows that the New Museum is fond of doing in its Bowery home, a show that no one should miss, and one of which its in-house curators – Lauren Cornell, Massimiliano Gioni, and Laura Hoptman – and their boss Lisa Phillips are rightly proud. So, sharing the fingers of one hand between them, this was what they had to say about their show, and why they felt that people should see it:
[Massimiliano Gioni:] “We set ourselves a challenge. We looked at the past, and saw that art history is full of great artists who made some of their most amazing works when they were 24 or 25. And many of them showed at the New Museum: we could mention Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Keith Haring, for example. So we thought it was our responsibility to look around and see who are going to be the greatest artists of the future. Of course it’s quite ambitious to say that. I don’t know if there’s a Jasper Johns in this show. I hope so. I guess it will be up to history to find that out.”
[Massimiliano Gioni:] “This generation, people born around 1980, is the demographic that already outnumbers the baby-boomers in America, and that already accounts for 50% of the whole population in China and India. We are on the verge of a major shift in demographics and culture. And so we thought it was time to look at contemporary art and see if this generation was already producing change. More importantly, for some bizarre reason it seems that this is the generation that everyone wants to sell something to. We thought it was time to see what this demographic was making, and not just to look at them as potential consumers, but also as producers.”
[Lauren Cornell:] “We organized the exhibition around key themes, and I’ll just mention a few. The first is romance in obsolescence – you see artists working with technology, looking at its innovative possibilities but also slowing it down and looking at its mistakes and its glitches. Another is artists picturing the future, and those pictures are both optimistic and incredibly anxious and uncertain. There’s also a return to abstraction with video games and painting and photography. So what emerges is an incredibly pluralistic and complex world view, and also a shared appreciation of the globalization of culture that has marked the lifetime of this generation of artists.”
[Laura Hoptman:] “This exhibition posits no ‘–isms’ for this generation. In fact we took great pains not to corral these 50 artists against parameters of any sort, save the arbitrary ones of demographics. This is a generational snapshot of a moment when most of its cohort has just reached maturity. In a way, our show is less of a reflection of the millennial generation than a product of it. Because of this it’s right and proper to leave the generalizations and the assessments to the sociologists and the marketers and, most importantly, to the future. This is the moment to give the millennials the stage, and just let them dance.”
On the fingers of one hand is based on an original idea by Jacquelyn Lewis.