MoMA PS1’s Multi-Generational “Greater New York” Is as Flawed as It Is Successful
“Humble” was one of the words that surfaced during a curator discussion on Friday October 9th at a press conference to launch the fourth edition of MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York,” a quinquennial survey of artwork made in New York that has generated more than its fair share of controversy during past editions. It’s a fitting word for a show that is often sober, understated, and uneven in a way typical for surveys of its scope; which not only showcases rising art stars of a younger generation but also reflects back on the lesser-known histories of New York art (from PS1’s beginnings in the ’70s onwards); and in which there are no noisy spectacles and few participatory installations. This fourth “Greater New York” is heavy on photography, in large part due to the inclusion of esteemed septuagenarian critic Douglas Crimp on its curatorial team.
The influence of Crimp’s 2010 exhibition “Mixed Use, Manhattan,” curated jointly with Lynne Cooke at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, is felt palpably in the numerous references to the way artists of ’70s New York and onwards engaged with the city’s post-industrial spaces.
Another throwback to the New York of a bygone era, documentary images of
Amid this nostalgia and invocations of loss, the fairy tale at the heart of
There are several moments in “Greater New York,” like this one, where newer works are enriched by older ones, and vice versa. This is particularly true of the upper floors, which generally provide some levity and feel more tightly curated.
The structure of the city and the human body are evoked throughout, the latter in a beautiful, light-flooded room dedicated to sculptures of the human form. Here, figures by
As is the case with all surveys (and especially so for those curated by a team of four, spanning several generations), much of “Greater New York”’s fourth iteration feels pretty disjointed. There are no easy takeaways here, and I often wondered if I could see our current day New York in all of this at all. (Where’s all the politics, the consumption, and the ever-encroaching pervasiveness of the digital realm?) “It was important for us not to make a diagnostic show about New York,” said Eely. And indeed it avoids asserting any stable positions. But now—when overlooked artists from the ’60s and ’70s are being surfaced by the market with some regularity—is an apt moment to look back to earlier decades in New York. That breadth of focus taps into a prevalent nostalgia for grittier times when being an artist and having money was something of an oxymoron, and when swathes of Manhattan were ripe for creative use—if more dangerous and unkempt.
While those looking for a singular curatorial vision are in for a gross disappointment, there is an insistence on plurality here that well serves a broad survey. At times, while making a path through the 2015 edition of “Greater New York,” one feels lost. But much like the experience of existing in a complex and often overwhelming metropolis, just when you lose your way, something emerges that feels clear, familiar—something you can grab hold of. So it was, for me, with a knockout room on the third floor consisting of a lustrous, glinting textile by Howardena Pindell across from the lucid, soulful paintings of John Finneran, and flanked by Joyce Robins’s spotted ceramic dishes and Stefanie Victor’s elegant, nuanced metal forms. Together they’re a celebration of texture, color, space, and shape, and a tribute to the diverse heritages and aesthetics encapsulated within New York’s great span.
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