Younger Than Jesus: Late Thoughts

The New Museum's show "Younger Than Jesus," closing July 12, offends not so much for its air of faux-transgressive silliness, as captured in this Gawker post (hat tip AFC), as its patronizing premise: essentially that an institution run by old farts is going to tell us what the "younger generation" (artists born after 1976) "thinks." (Of the three curators, only one is younger than the exhibition's cut off age; all are serving at the pleasure of museum employees and backers older than Jesus [was when he died].)

This is Margaret Mead anthropology, or colonialism based on age. ("Our curators went into the colleges, the clubs, to find out what these krazy kids are up to.") The results are slightly zany but not too upsetting--almost a textbook example of what an old person would think a young person thinks like.

What if a trio of under-30 curators decided to focus on peers who wanted to "bring back painting and sculpture"? Or shock the system with racial epithets a la Lenny Bruce (or Rush Limbaugh)? We'll never know, because the museum inherently taints the subject matter with its own, aging perspectives based on the conceptual/performance tradition circa 1968, identity politics circa the mid'90s, and limousine liberal humanism.

Let's take one example: Guthrie Lonergan's curated selection of random people's MySpace intros. This piece was altered beyond recognition for "YTJ." Originally it appeared as a YouTube favorites list where "you kind of had to know about it" or maybe stumbled across it while clicking around YouTube. Its intelligence and melancholy perspective stood out from the morass of baby and cat videos and terrible musical gear demos.

In the New Museum the intros are plucked from their original banal context and made into a series of slick stand-alone videos, running on two monitors with no web trappings in sight. Seen as standard video art rather than something new in the Web 2.0 context, it is documentary/performance business as usual: a sexy or unsexy "other" talking confessionally into a video camera. There's even a wall label telling us about how these anonymous others are "constructing their identities."

This blog's hypothetical young artist would think the above was "not too rad."