IDSVA’s Winter Residency in New York City included an illuminating trip to the New Museum, an institution that has become a leader in the presentation of experimental practices and philosophically engaging exhibitions.
Our visit began with a tour of Chris Ofili: Night and Day by Margo Norton, assistant curator, who gave an historical analysis of Ofili’s work and insight into the dynamics of his practice. A highlight was the painting Holy Virgin Mary (1996), a piece that had been the target of NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s wrath in 1999 during the Brooklyn Museum’s controversial Sensation show.
To see the beauty and elegance of the work in person, especially as it relates to the coherence and conceptual sophistication of the retrospective, is to truly understand the tragedy of that episode. A piece of gracefully adorned dried elephant dung protrudes from the figure’s chest—a maternal breast in homage of Mary’s lost son, a ceremonial trope and a much-explored artifact in Ofili’s work—is hardly the disrespectful profanity that it was touted to be. Throughout the exhibition, references to Greek mythology dialogue with ancient literature, musical genres, contemporary performance and pop culture, highlighting Ofili’s heavy engagement with history and collective narrative as well as his sensitive handling of charged issues surrounding race, class and religion throughout the world’s cultures.
We next met with Travis Chamberlain, Associate Curator of Performance and Manager of Public Programs, who presented a tour of the innovative work being done through the museum’s Research and Development Department. Originating as a collective art project in Brooklyn and joined in collaboration with an art space and nightclub in Amsterdam, the exhibition AUNTSforcamera presented experiments in performance, interactivity and social media throughout the non-gallery spaces of the museum. The works, which were created by artists-in-residence who had shared a communal studio environment at the museum and juxtaposed with publicly generated content via streaming and archived video, questioned the definitions of art, action and interaction. Presented concurrently to Gerard and Kelly’s P.O.L.E. (People, Objects, Language, Exchange) exhibition, which playfully engaged the idea of shared intimacy around various “poles”—literal and symbolic—viewers were invited to contemplate myriad social structures and contemporary means of communication. Both of these exhibitions were refreshing and impressive with their insistence on community engagement, rigorous conceptual framework and radical personal content.
Our final stop brought us back to Chris Ofili for When Shadows Were Shortest, an exhibition of costumes the artist designed for a production of the ballet Diana and Actaeon at the Royal Opera House in London. Reprising the theme of mythology, in conversation with the choreographic content found in the other exhibitions, the juxtaposition highlighted the museum’s integrated curatorial approach and served as an inspiring example of the intertextual philosophy of IDSVA at work in contemporary creative practice.