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Sunday, July 20, 2008

After Nature at the New Museum



In his second major show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, special exhibition director Massimiliano Gioni unveils his desolate vision of a not-so-distant future that is at once hopelessly romantic and knowingly absurd. With ninety works by twenty-six artists, the exhibition spans three floors and makes use of the buildings cavernous interior to affect its post-apocalyptic austerity.

“After Nature,” named for W.G Sebald’s posthumous book-length poem, describes a portentous future plagued by disaster and disregard. Drawing inspiration from the decrepit and decayed the show comes to look more like an anthropologist’s’ study than a contemporary art exhibition.

Among the artists featured are Mauricio Cattelan, whose headless taxideremied horse appears in full on collision with the wall and Zoe Leonard, who’s resurrected a monstrous dead tree with industrial cables and steel plates. On opposite ends of the room, the works play off one another to create a motif that is as tragic as it is absurd.

The shows highlights include Warner Herzog’s 1992 film “Lessons of Darkness” which shows burning oil films during the Persian Gulf war and a short animation by Nathalie Djurberg in which an anthropomorphic blob of mud consumes a small town. One of the most striking pieces is a grotesque self-portrait of the Polish artist, Pawel Althamer, whose patchy complexion and yellow hue can be attributed to the intestinal patchwork he’s used as skin.

Other works include a predictable assemblage sculpture by the Iranian artist Huma Bhabha and a less expectant Dana Shultz painting of a man eating a hole through his stomach. More peculiar still is an installation by the collaborative artists Allora and Calzadilla in which they have assembled tropical plants at the center of Jenny Holzer’s 2004 projection Blue Wall Tilt.

The show is comprised largely of video artists who spare Herzog and Djurberg are uninspired and redundant. As is Polish sculptor Robert Kusmirowski’s scale model of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s infamous cabin.

But despite its inconsistencies “After Nature” is a remarkable show and an absolute triumph for Mr. Gioni and The New Museum.

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