Museum exhibitions devoted to emerging artists are a critical gamble. Even the most prescient curators cannot predict exactly which artists or ideas will remain relevant in 100 years’ time (or even ten). Yet the New Museum, as ever, is jumping headfirst into these murky waters with its latest Generational Triennial. The show, which includes 51 artists and collectives from 25 countries, is meant to be “predictive” rather than retrospective, says its co-curator Lauren Cornell, who organised it with the artist Ryan Trecartin. “We are trying to show attitudes that are emerging,” Cornell says. The oldest artist in the show, Lisa Holzer, is 44 this year; among the youngest is Niv Acosta, who will be 27.
This year’s theme, “Surround Audience”, surveys art against the backdrop of pervasive digital technology, which Cornell and Trecartin are uniquely qualified to address. Cornell is the former executive director of Rhizome, a New Museum-affiliated publishing platform for art that deals with digital technology; Trecartin’s work often deals with such themes. In her catalogue essay, Cornell focuses partly on “how artists represent selfhood in a world where we are constantly being asked to perform ourselves,” she says. “This world is full of the possibility to editorialise ourselves for our audiences, but there is also the darker side of being tracked and having your data mined.”
The art included in the show is varied. “Not all of the artists are necessarily dealing with digital technology,” Cornell says. Along with painting, sculpture, video and performance there is also an online talk show by the artist Casey Jane Ellison. Poetry has special pride of place. In addition to an exhibition catalogue, the museum will also publish a book of poetry with contributions from 69 writers. This curatorial approach offers a context in which to understand the works, which may otherwise be difficult to make sense of. (Contemporary art often requires tremendous amounts of explanation.)
Around half of the works in the show, including pieces by Juliana Huxtable and Eduardo Navarro, have been commissioned for the exhibition. “Behind the scenes, we are trying to give early-career artists a chance to do something new,” Cornell says. And behind the scenes, too, is a large consortium of exhibition funders including collectors (Mihail Lari and Scott Murray among them), galleries (Sprüth Magers is one) and non-profit organisations (such as the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts).
• Generational Triennial: Surround Audience, New Museum, New York, 25 February-24 May