“Greater New York” Is a Bellwether—And It’s Time for Critics to Eat Their Words
“Youth-besotted,” “a pineapple ice cream soda,” and “a flashpoint” aren’t exactly descriptors that encourage reverence. And “Greater New York,” MoMA PS1’s quinquennial survey of emerging New York-based artists (which unveils for the fourth time this Sunday) hasn’t exactly inspired a legion of critical camaraderie. Nor has it inspired much curatorial approval. Ironically, it was none other than Peter Eleey, the chief curator of this year’s show, who 10 years ago described it as a “flashpoint” in a Frieze Magazine review. Yet looking through the past exhibitions’ rosters, from 2000, 2005, and 2010, the majority of the participants were featured at a crucial moment in their careers, a moment when they either blasted off or faded into obscurity. And most blasted off.
Featured in the inaugural 2000 “Greater New York,” Lehmann Maupin in September of that year, and has remained with the gallery ever since—not to mention being labelled the “Art Innovator of the Year” in 2013 by the Wall Street Journal. That same year,
Five years later, the cards were stacked similarly with
The last go-round was anything but amiss, too.
How can a show that helped to launch so many careers be so divisive? So much so, it seems, that the forthcoming edition has changed its focus by “bringing together emerging and more established artists,” as the official statement goes. It continues on to explain that “the city itself is being reshaped by a voracious real estate market that poses particular challenges to local artists,” calling for us to “[examine] points of connection and tension between our desire for the new and nostalgia for that which it displaces.”
In 2015, newcomers like M. Lamar and C. Spencer Yeh will be placed in context with Petzel Gallery, which represents Schutz, as well as other GNY alums
There’s often a schism between critical and market reception. But “‘Greater New York’ functions, as Roberta Smith put it, as a big-ring circus,” quips Fabienne Stephan, a curator at Salon 94, which shows
The expanded criteria for 2015’s installment—mid-career, established, and previously exhibited artists—may seem to belie the pathos of the exhibition. After all, it is, as Parker says, “always viewed as a platform for younger, largely unknown artists.” However, as Thomas says, “survey shows have their place. They revitalize energy within the art world and they take a pulse of the time.” And in the New York area, with some 140,000 practicing artists living within its five boroughs, whose median age is 38, suffice to say that many artists here aren’t exactly spring chickens.
Perhaps the “pulse of the time” is no longer so youth-focused. And “emerging,” as institutional or collecting nomenclature, may be somewhat irrelevant. As Parker puts it: “In today’s day and age, digital media has made it virtually impossible to be unknown.” Likewise, New York harbors immense talent, often much of it overlooked and under-exhibited. Digging deeper—not broader—into its landscape may actually enable “Greater New York” to shed some of its flash-in-the-pan reputation.
While PS1 and MoMA have lately been reviled for their corporate pockets and distracting celebrity-chasing curatorial strategy, the artists seem not to care. “I was more excited about the relationship of my work to viewers and audiences than I was thinking about my career, which probably wasn’t the smartest move on my part,” laughs Thomas. For all the drama “Greater New York” has engendered, it’s guaranteed to garner a large audience for its current roster, which looks promising.
“The New York art scene is so large and fractured, I don’t think one museum exhibition could ever accurately represent it entirely,” Parker says, “but from the list of artists included it seems that it is reflective of work made in New York over a specific time period and which may reveal itself to be more contemporary than we anticipate.” To quote Samuel Johnson, “The future is purchased by the present.”
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