The New Museum- Engendering genders

Gender in Contemporary art, Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, Toxic, 2012
Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, Toxic, 2012 (still). 
Super 16mm film transferred to HD, 13 min. 
Courtesy the artists, Ellen de Bruijne Projects, and Galerie Marcelle Alix

The New Museum has always been at the forefront of presenting exhibitions that challenges conventional boundaries of what belongs in an art museum.  This time, the museum's curatorial investigates the question of "gender fluidity" with a show called- "Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon."  In this case, it isn't what belongs in an art museum, but what kind of role a museum can play in the discussion of a controversial topic.

This group show opened on Sept. 27 and will be on view until Jan. 21 of 2018, it presents works in a variety of mediums by over forty international artists.  Giving voices to both seasoned artists and new artists, the exhibition examines "Gender's place" within the contemporary cultural landscape.

Simone Leigh, Queen Bee, Luhring Augstine
Simone Leigh, Queen Bee, 2008–2012. 
Terra cotta, TV antenna, gold, graphite, platinum, 
dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

While this may seem a thorny issue in popular media and conservative institutions, however, the advantage of starting the gender discourse in a museum is that the visual rhetoric is often more comprehensive and comprehensible than the verbal debates.

The exhibition is best viewed from the 4th floor, then work your way down to the third and the second-floor galleries.  As the elevator door opens on the 4th floor, the presence of a large video projection- "Toxic," 2012 by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz almost takes over the entire gallery.  A part of this video presents a staged interview between an off-camera person and on-camera character.  The seemingly comical response through the character's exaggerated mannerism embeds a double ambiguity of gender-identification.  As the character is played by a female, playing a male, playing a female, it puts a twist in the conventional perception of gender role-play.

New Museum, Gender in Contemporary Art, Mariah Garnett, Encounters I May Or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin
Mariah Garnett, Encounters I May Or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin, 2012. 
Installation view, Human Resources, Los Angeles. Courtesy the artist

On the third floor, Mariah Garnett's 8mm film is projected onto the wall seen as little pinholes.  As the light from the projector bounces off a spinning disco ball, it transforms the film images into little pictures of voyeurism.  Unlike watching the film in its full aspect ratio, viewers are forced to squint and as if looking through someone's keyhole.  In this piece, the frames that contain just colors transform the galleries space into a fantastic disco party, while the other frames of mischievous and suggestive sexual acts manipulate the act of looking into a kind of perverse pleasure.

Liz Collins, Crying, 2017, Contemporary Art, New Museum
Liz Collins, Crying, 2017. Silk, cotton, wool, 48 × 43 in (122 × 109.2 cm). Courtesy the artist

The second floor include a few pieces of works by Liz Collins, that all together constructs an immersive environment.  Besides the pieces hanging on the wall, there is are red faux-leather low benches that invite visitors to sit and pick up a pair of headsets, and to watch a "TV Show."  The show isn't a real TV show, but segments played by a variety of women actors.  The segments put out a series of socially steoro-typical dike role-playing in bar-scenes, also media presentations of hysterical females talking about their relationship problems with men.  The piece comments on the  insensitivity to gender politics in media, and the danger of passive spectatorship.

Diamond Stingily, Kaa, 2016, Queer Thoughts, New York
Diamond Stingily, Kaa, 2016. 
Kanekalon hair, knockers, barrettes, beads, 240 in (609.6 cm). 
Courtesy the artist and Queer Thoughts, New York

This exhibition at the New Museum addresses issues of gender critically but doesn't just point fingers at anyone for misunderstanding.  Rather, it makes one realize the complexity behind the issue through various channels.  If it doesn't resolve the debate on this issue, it certainly opens up the conversation toward a more open-minded acceptance of how unavoidably important it is, especially now.


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