Great Expectations Lines around the block. A wild opening day. An exhibition packed with fantastic young art. Great apres-opening parties. What's wrong with this picture? Well, if you're a discerning visitor to P.S. 1's most recent monster show, "Greater New York," you may find plenty to complain about.
So far, so good. P.S. 1 and MOMA then promised to "seize the millennial moment to define some aspects of this fledgling art community's interests, vitality, promise and achievement." The only criteria for eligibility, the show's curatorial statement read, was that selected artists "not have had a one-person exhibition before 1995." Meeting a novelty-seeking, but still penny-wise artworld head-on, P.S. 1 and MOMA raised the stakes on the young-art blockbuster format perfected by the Whitney Museum. Provided P.S. 1 and MOMA staffs did their curatorial homework, "Greater New York" would discover "new talent" galore in its "own backyard." Alas, the two museums and their people seriously botched the job.
Faced, one presumes, with the pressure of delivering a popular success under a supertight deadline, the exhibition curators let the museum dog eat their homework, raided the slide files of established galleries and prominent not-for-profit spaces, and, finally, resorted to directly ringing some big-name artists. "Um, hello," one imagines these conversations went, "This is so-and-so from the 'Greater New York' show. I hear you're working on your fifth major exhibition this year, but would you happen to have any old thing you could drop by the museum on Sunday?"
After trashing the old mission statement quoted at length in this column, the "Greater New York" team of curators?a mix of seven curiously out-of-touch folks, four from P.S. 1 and three from MOMA?effectively scuttled the exhibition's alternative, groundbreaking conceit. Instead of a show garnered from studio visits made to the "local context" of not-so-elusive "new talent"?namely, the once far-flung, now well-traipsed artists' lofts of Williamsburg, DUMBO and Long Island City?"Greater New York" quotes shamelessly from the hottest Soho and Chelsea shows of the past few years. The results are good but disappointingly predictable. Goodbye requirement that artists not have a show prior to 1995; hello massive, groovy photo shoot with Harper's Bazaar.
Sharing a number of artists with the upcoming Whitney Biennial it so recklessly beat to the punch, "Greater New York" also presents a number of its most prominent artists to distinct disadvantage in an inexplicable "Prints" section. Instead of large-scale work by wonderful painters Lisa Yuskavage and Julia Jacquette, the exhibition offers a set of etchings by each artist and nothing more. Other artists, like Nicola Tyson, Nils Norman and William Fick, make their only appearances of the show in this section with a group of works on paper.
Under the "seen this done that" category, "Greater New York" offers the work of a number of disparate artists from the stables of, most prominently, galleries like Deitch Projects, Andrew Kreps, Gavin Brown, Marianne Boesky, 303 and Lombard-Freid (gallery affiliations are clearly noted on the wall labels). From 303, we revisit the adolescent hijinks of Tim Gardner, rendered snapshot-style in watercolors as drab and whitebread as his high school graduating class. Shirin Neshat rounds out a strangely weak video selection with a projection of her work Rapture, featuring peripatetic white-shirted men and veil-wearing women, last seen courtesy of Barbara Gladstone Gallery. And Cecily Brown, fresh off an undeserved critical drubbing at Gagosian, contributes a figurative painting of The Act done in jealous green, unfortunately nowhere near as good as the work in her recent show.
Yet there is plenty to marvel at in "Greater New York," provided you get past the blatant misnomer packed into the false bottom of the exhibition's title. Featuring the work of wonderful artists like Alexander Ross, Inka Essenhigh, Bruce Pearson, Ellen Gallagher, Roxy Paine, Amy Sillman, Giles Lyon, Mark Lombardi, Lisa Ruyter, Steven Brower, Julian LaVerdiere and James Siena, "Greater New York" is a huge, nearly exhausting bazaar of art filled with amazingly attractive, thought-provoking and ambitious wares.
Here, in the work of Essenhigh, Ruyter and Lyon, is a significant part of the new young crop of painters; there, in the art of Julian LaVerdiere, Arnaldo Morales and Teresita Fernandez, some of the best new installation art around; elsewhere, in the staged photographic color work of Deborah Mesa-Pelly and Justine Kurland, a few representatives of the girl photography only recently in such mad vogue. But the exhibition has an annoying, repetitive catch. See it once, and "Greater New York" will leave you with the richly satisfying impression of having had your thumb on the pulse of the latest developments in the art world. See it twice, and you will swear that?your previous trip to Long Island City notwithstanding?you've seen it all before.
Exceptions that confirm the rule, the few surprises in "Greater New York" bear touting, if for no other reason than to point up the undeniable charm of the road not taken. Consider Sweet Illusion, a karaoke-powered video installation by Adriana Arenas, synchronizing DVD images of spinning cotton candy with the cloying sickly sweetness of a norteña; Mick O'Shea's Artworld, an art circuit in railroad miniature with Levittown-type houses made from folded invitation cards; E.V. Day's Flesh for Fantasy, an arrested explosion of blowup sex dolls; and Elizabeth Campbell's climbing flow charts, Potential Future Based on Present Circumstances, which neurotically trace out the consequences of daily activities like "upcoming studio visit from curator" and "Peter and I discuss moving in together."
Cinderella stories, the work of these artists gives us a glimpse at the exhibition that not only might have been, but should be, somewhere, sometime soon. Next to the work of better-known artists, say?BIG ROOM's telescoping Terminal Tunnel in a box, Roxy Paine's tabletop of organic-seeming urethane and polymer soil, dandelions and shrooms, and Ellen Gallagher's elegant black-on-black rubber, enamel and paper portrait of a man's head?the works of these emerging artists undeniably hold their own. Had curatorial commitment not waned, then been co-opted by the predictable star turn, the exhibition at P.S. 1 would present many other surprises. As it is, "Greater New York" is a good show that includes the work of many very good established young artists. But it could have been so much better, so much more powerful; in a word, so much more necessary. Won't some art institution, somewhere, tackle the exhibition P.S. 1 and MOMA initially promised? Please? Anybody? Anybody at all?
"Greater New York," through May 16 at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Ave. at 46th Ave., Long Island City, 718-784-2084.