Twenty years is an eternity in design. Case in point: designers use completely different technologies in their work— and daily lives — than we did in 1993. And without a doubt, our aesthetic sensibilities have changed. Yet, the art of that year seems strikingly current.
NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star is as broad as its mandate: to feature only art made and exhibited in NYC in 1993. The New Museum exhibition fills five floors and a neighboring studio (231) with every imaginable media available in 1993 (computers were around by then, and so was their attendant art).
To name just a few of the items that can be found in the extensive bowels of the New Museum: a stuffed goat, a naked nuclear family, seven female busts made of chocolate, seven made of soap, three Plexiglas panels covered in jellyfish, a Bronx living room turned crime scene, an American garage and all its contents.
If you’re someone who spent the ’90s watching too much TV, a set of color-coded screens on the fifth floor flashing monthly headlines from 1993 is a fun yet bracing trip down memory lane.
Some of those headlines:
August 30, 1993
“The Israeli cabinet backs the draft agreement to grant autonomy to Palestinians, while four thousand right-wing Israelis protest outside.”
May 7, 1993
“Hillary Clinton’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform announces that the proposed government health care plan would include worker’s compensation coverage and injuries suffered in automobile accidents.”
April 9, 1993
“Iraqi forces fire on American fighter jets in the no-fly zone; American planes bomb in retaliation.”
The works are similar for their year of origin, their distopic edge and, most compelling of all, for how current they feel.
The same issues that hung heavy in the ’90s — gender and racial inequality, political turmoil — resonate today. The ’90s culturally were an ascetic reaction to the flashy ’80s, much like we as we live in reaction to the burst of the housing and dot com bubbles: a world amid a recession and a reality check.
Even the fashions in its photographs would pass today in trendy NYC.
Karen Kilimnik plays Heathers, a cult hit to this day, on a small TV. David Hammon’s hoodie on wire, “In the Hood,” could be a tribute to Trayvon Martin. The atrocities committed by governments around the world, as approached in numerous pieces, sound nauseously similar. Quintessential ’90s band Sonic Youth, whose album the exhibition is named for, even enjoys substantial popularity today.
The most moving work is an untitled set by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. In the center of the fourth floor a string of lightbulbs stretches from the ceiling to a small cluster on the floor. Behind it, grainy grayscale “billboards” cover two walls and meet at a right angle. Each has a bird, one ascending the other descending. The pieces are a subtle meditation on AIDS (his partner and later Gonzalez-Torres himself died of the disease).
Accompanied by the sound of Kristin Oppenheim’s “Sail on Sailor” audio loop, the whole room seems powerful and meditative. Indeed, museum goers recline on the orange carpet in the large darkened room, taking in the light, the sound, an ethereal feeling.
Perhaps they are taken in by the strange time warp or the idea that nothing really changes. Either way, they are taking in art from 1993 with the immediacy of now.
NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
Through May 26, 2013
Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter.