Sitting on the Lower East Side is The New Museum of Contemporary Art. On February 13, the museum opened a new exhibit for their Triennial, Songs for Sabotage, curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari and Alex Gartenfeld. The exhibit unites the works of twenty-six artists in the attempt to address the connection of images to the forces that structure our society.
The exhibit is spread throughout four floors; it cannot be said that every floor has a singular theme, however, they seem connected in how they want to showcase injustice in the nineteen countries represented by the artists. On the fourth floor, catching the eye immediately as you step out of the elevator, are two metal sculptures: one that hangs from the ceiling in warped shapes called Balconies, done by Norwegian artist Tiril Hasselknippe, and E.L.G., that appears to be a swing set by American artist Diamond Stingily. Hasselknippe suspends from the ceiling the common balcony on the side of a building, making the familiar unfamiliar, though, more successfully, Stingily’s childhood swing set is just different enough to keep you looking.
On the walls to the right and left hang oil paintings that are so full of color that at first glance you cannot make out much of an image, just a burst of pattern. Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude, from Zimbabwe, takes aim at corrupt government and the anguish it creates. Upon closer inspection, Nyaude’s work has exaggerated features and large, gaping, grinning mouths. On the other side of the room, you will find more of these sharply colored images, however these have more discernable figures even though the mouths are the most prominent features. There are figures of people distorted in chairs, crowned by the jarringly bright colors that evoke the military camouflage pattern that is illegal in Zimbabwe.
Contrasting these pieces on the far wall are pictures of individuals that have been almost completely covered in staples. American artist Wilmer Wilson IV made each of them with one feature or object that is still visible: a pair of shoes, hands, hats, or in one of the faces. The outline of the faces remains behind the shimmering staples. Isolating only one aspect of the pictures causes one to consider what the removal of context reveal—the assumptions that are made based of a fraction of an individual.
The third floor offers another eclectic grouping of pieces by South African artist Haroon Gunn-Salie. In the middle of the room is, perhaps, the most startling piece in the exhibition—Senzenina. Multiple sculptures of men in black kneel, without heads or hands. In the background, there is a soundtrack that repeats over and over while the figures in the center of the room still kneel, catching the eye without eyes. Gunn-Salie takes aim at the police who massacred the striking South African miners.
Cian Dayrit, a Filipino artist, surrounds these sculptures with pieces highlighting the colonization of the Philippines, such as Insulae Indiae Orientalis. Dayrit has broken bits of different rosaries and affixed them across the canvas, each one twisted together over the illustration of a map of the Philippines. Mapa de lo que ahora se como Las Islas Pilipinas is held up by a pole that has outstretched hands at either end, reminiscent of Jesus at the crucifixion, referring to the intimate relationship between Catholicism and Spanish colonization.
In the outer portion of the floor, separated by a wall, is a mixed media installation called As You Said, Things Resist and Things are Resistant, a sculpture that seems as though it belongs in a construction site with aluminum and what could be copper splattered on the side. On the top side of the sculpture is a fan that every so often will switch on and off. The Greek team that goes by the name KERNEL, which consists of the artists Pegy Zali, Petros Moris, and Theodoros Giannakis, completed the sculpture. It evokes the sabotage of the construction site of a bridge that used copper in its construction that was stolen.
On the next floor, you will find mini sculptures that are covered in Spanish and English that directly reference immigration and ICE, made by Peruvian artist Daniela Ortiz. The sculptures are in a familiar form that is comfortable in its simplicity, but is replete with sharp castigations and declarations. The sculptures are small, and to read the text you are forced to lean over them and squint; everything, from title to appearance, showcases anger and frustration. The piece No me Integro en tu Nación Racist is shaped in the simple form of a pot with a small kneeling figure in the center while the entirety of the piece is covered in small, brightly colored text. Another one, simply named Colón, features a small statue of Christopher Columbus beheaded with the word scrawled across in bright, bloody red.
The exhibition is a whirlwind of color and expression that seems to want to provoke thought, unease, and engagement with all. Walking through the exhibition, the message of international sabotage uniting twenty-six artists from nineteen countries can be somewhat difficult to parse; however, upon leaving the exhibition you are filled with the sense that you can influence change, perhaps not with all the injustices but within your community.