This Sunday MoMA PS1, the museum's Long Island City contemporary art outpost, opens the highly anticipated fourth edition of Greater New York. Mounted every five years, the exhibition surveys recent art made in the metropolitan area. What started in 2000 as a freewheeling showcase for young artists working in the city—and the first curatorial collaboration between MoMA and PS1, an outer-borough alternative space founded in 1976 in a former schoolhouse—has reinvented itself slightly in each iteration. This time around, the show has departed from its focus on young artists, expanding into a sobering transgenerational survey reflecting the changes in New York City over the last four decades. The list of 158 participants includes just 40 artists (not including collectives) born after 1980. Sixteen featured artists are deceased, including the Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who died this week. The earliest works in the show were made roughly around the time of PS1's establishment and reflect, per the press release, "artists who engaged the margins of the city," both architecturally and socially. Recent works embrace a variety of forms, from painting to fashion design, that consider the body's lived experience in the city. An interest in temporality is shared in a robust film and performance performance that unfolds over the course of the exhibition.
This year, Greater New York is organized by four curators: Peter Eleey, curator and associate director of exhibitions and programs at MoMA PS1; Douglas Crimp, professor of art history at the University of Rochester; Thomas J. Lax, associate curator of media and performance at MoMA; and Mia Locks, assistant curator at MoMA PS1. Crimp, who became known in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a theorist of appropriation art (notably through his 1977 Artists Space exhibition "Pictures") and as an AIDS activist, is the first curator outside MoMA's ranks who has been tapped to collaborate on the show. During remarks at the press preview, Eleey said that "Mixed Use, Manhattan: Photography and Related Practices 1970s to the Present," an exhibition Crimp organized with Lynne Cooke at Madrid's Reina Sofía in 2010 about artists engaging with the city through images, provided a conceptual basis for this edition of Greater New York.
With that in mind, visitors will find a number of works documenting the much-romanticized gritty urban landscape of 1970s and ‘80s New York, from a selection of Alvin Baltrop's silver gelatin prints of gay men cruising on the West Side piers to Henry Flynt's images of graffiti by SAMO—Jean-Michel Basquiat's tag. Three photographs of Gordon Matta-Clark's Doors, Floors, Doors, a site-specific intervention staged in PS1's inaugural exhibition "Rooms," appear throughout the show. Architecture's futurist aesthetic is also touched upon in a series of drawings by Lebbeus Woods (1940-2012), interspersed with powerful figurative painting.
Indeed, if there is one abiding theme to this survey, it is figuration. A rising interest in identity politics reflects a cultural climate marked by movements like Occupy Wall Street, #blacklivesmatter and new waves of feminist movement. David Hammons's militant African American Flag waves in the courtyard, while elsewhere in the exhibition, artists such as Deana Lawson, Mary Beth Edelson and Charles Atlas all address communities of racial and sexual difference. The body even shows up as a reference in abstraction, as a small room on the third floor juxtaposing recent paintings by Sadie Benning and Robert Bordo suggests.
Installations by fashion labels Eckhaus Latta (featuring shirts with the image of a man's naked chest) and Slow and Steady Wins the Race, as well as works related to Susan Cianciolo's DIY-inspired 1990s clothing lines, evoke the physical frame. The most decadent display of corporeal pieces appears on the second floor, in a sunlit hall filled with figurative sculpture—sometimes abject, sometimes celebratory—by artists such as Lutz Bacher, Huma Bhabha, Mary Beth Edelson, Simone Leigh, Tony Matelli and Stewart Uoo. On the first floor, a presentation of paintings and sculpture by Jamian Juliano-Villani, Ajay Kurian, Peter Saul and William Villalongo consider the acid-hued, cartoonish expression of the body. Also on the ground floor, a sobering room of work by the fierce pussy collective, Donald Moffett, Joy Episalla and Robert Bordo memorialize the AIDS crisis through the body's absence.
Finally, in keeping with the spirit of the ‘70s, a number of young artists draw from the movement of institutional critique, creating art that addresses financial speculation and questions of access. Ben Thorp-Brown's 13-minute film Toymakers (2014) documents a factory where "deal toys" are made for corporate executives. Lax pointed to Cameron Rowland and Park McArthur—two artists who, he said, piqued the curators' interest early because of their consideration of history. Rowland investigates the lasting effects of the institution of slavery, while McArthur plumbs the history of institutions of care. McArthur strings a posey restraint—a type of strait jacket—between two rooms, a garment which looks alternately sinister and quasi-erotic. Two sculptures from Rowland's "Pass-Thru" series resemble commercially fabricated pass-through windows, designed to protect employees like bodega owners and cashiers from violent customers. (Lax points out that the artist, like Robert Gober, painstaking crafts objects that look like readymades.) One "Pass-Thru," backed by cardboard, is for rent at a rate slightly higher than its for-purchase counterpart. Lax explained that the rental terms mirror the credit predation inflicted upon the poor. The work's ambivalence—about the city it represents and the market in which it circulates—encapsulates the frustration of New York's precarious creative class today, buoyed by creative energy and squeezed by voracious real estate speculators.