“NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set…” Opens at New Museum

Felix Gonzales – Torres Untitled (Couple). Photo by Tim Schreier.

The New Museum opened its latest exhibition last night, NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Not because of the individual art works—although there are many interesting and compelling pieces in the show–but because of the way they work together to capture a particular time and place.

75 artists are represented in NYC 1993, which fills every nook and cranny of all five of the museum’s exhibition floors, as well as its space at 231 Bowery—a first for the museum.

Janine Antoni (14 Self Portrait Busts) “Lick and Lather.” Photo by Tim Schreier.

Naturally, I started thinking about that time and place. What was so special about 1993? What was happening in New York then, in the art world, or for that matter, in of the rest of the country and around the globe?  The show takes its subtitle from New York rock band Sonic Youth’s 1993 album, and focuses on the mainstream and underground scenes, across disciplines, that came to define the era.

As I wandered through the exhibition, it became clear that the early 90s were a cultural turning point both nationally and internationally.

Who can forget that Bill Clinton became the 42nd president in 1993 (some of us were very happy about that) and that the national debate on health care, gun control, and gay rights began in full force. The AIDS crisis was very present, and closer to home, the New York City landscape was forever changing thanks to gentrification. Internationally, there was conflict in Europe, and attempts at peace in the Middle East.

“Amazing Grace” by Nari Ward at Studo 231 (next door). Photo by Tim Schreier.

Much of this information is the background and source material for a number of artists who first came to prominence in 1993. New York artists like  Janine Antoni, Matthew Barney, and Sean Landers, who are prominently featured in NYC 1993, exploded on the scene twenty years ago after their work debuted in the both the Venice and Whitney Biennale of that year.

I must say, twenty years later, the work is still compelling and timely. Barney’s “Drawing Restraint” described by the artist as “an endless loop between discipline and desire” stills hold power with its grotesque video imagery of the masked and distorted satyr.

In addition, artists from Los Angeles, Britain, Italy, and Germany were making their debuts in New York, providing a new texture to an already dynamic scene.

I particularly liked Pepon Osario’s installation, The Scene of the Crime, (Whose Crime?) also shown at the 1993 Whitney Biennial, for reminding me of how marginalized New York’s Puerto Ricans were and still are.

Nan Goldin’s Gilles and Gotshco series is both an intimate and beautiful portrait of love and loss, and a sad reminder of the devastating effect AIDS had on the generation coming of age in 1993.

Works from artists from earlier generations, including Ida Applebroog, Mary Beth Edelson, Robert Gober, and Paul McCarthy, who produced some of their most powerful works in 1993, are presented alongside their younger cohorts.

Paul McCarthy “Cultural Gothic” and Sean Landers (ink on paper background). Photo by Tim Schreier.

I started on the 5th floor, where a video timeline cleverly displays pivotal events from the year: “January 6, 1993, Ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev dies at fifty-four, though the true cause of his death—complications from an AIDS-related illness—is not reported for another ten days.” “April 21, 1993 President Clinton’s stimulus bill is filibustered by Senate Republicans in his first serious legislative defeat.” “November 4, 1993, Sotheby’s auctions eighty-eight works by Picasso from the Stanley Seeger Collection, selling every one.”  I almost got stuck up there. But then luckily gave myself enough time to explore the art itself and be transported back in time.

In addition to the exhibition, on view through May 26th, the museum is hosting a series of public programs and discussions about the cultural and political developments of the early ’90s. The New Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from Wed – Sun, 11am – 6pm, and is open until 9pm on Thursdays. Visit the museum’s website: newmusuem.org for their full schedule of events.