Sunday, December 9, 2007

New Museum


I visited the new New Museum on Bowery street in New York City's Lower East Side last Wednesday, the first day it was open to the public. An invitation-only opening party was held a week prior and was followed by a 36-hour extended opening run, which was free, but without a reservation you apparently had to wait 30 outside for thirty minutes in the freezing cold.

A delay of all of five minutes saw the line-up turn somewhat hostile, with fur-coated patrons banging on the glass and waving their membership cards, demanding entrance. On the third day of a bad cold that hit the moment I deplaned, I wasn't quite as cranky as the impatient blue-hairs, but I also wasn't in an overly generous mood about the exhibition, or the new space. The exterior of the building is certainly impressive - six uneven boxes stacked like children's blocks, covered in corrugated-aluminum panels with an industrial aluminum mesh suspended in front of them. But inside the space consists of cramped passageways and stairwells, and exhibition spaces that look like over-sized lobbies (the layout of each floor make it impossible to look at work without a crowd of people waiting for the elevator in your sightline). The staggered blocks allow for a thin line of natural ceiling light on each floor, but its impact was minimal on the overcast day I was there. The 64 million dollar price tag for the building (the first art instution built from the ground up in NYC since the Whitney in 1966) means that even the washrooms have naming rights.

"Unmonumental", the four-story inaugural exhibition, was over-crowded with junk-shop assemblages of sloppy construction and lazy metaphor. I was grateful for the museum's non-collecting mandate, because this work is going to look very dated very quickly.

I did, however, like the bookstore, which (like their previous Chelsea location) was well-stocked with catalogues, monographs, artist books, dvds and a few artist multiples.

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