What I love about the New Museum is that whether or not I understand the art I usually have fun when I visit. Our visit this weekend was no exception. I did not understand the first floor exhibit – Laure Prouvost: “For Forgetting” or the fifth floor exhibit – “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module”. Maybe it was because it was a winter Saturday with the typical weekend crowds or maybe it was because we were dressed like Arctic explorers but these exhibits made me feel claustrophobic. We zipped through these exhibits and began our exploration of Pawel Althamer’s: The Neighbors.
How can you not love an artist who arranges to have musicians perform in the lobby? Or one who asked the museum to give free admission to anyone who donates a coat.These coats are being donated to the museum’s neighbor the Bowery Mission. All this before you even enter the museum. Pawel Althamer believes in community and wants to make sure that before we leave we will have a better sense of what community means to him.
On one floor he goes deep into himself. The art is about him. In one piece he molds a likeness of himself out of wax, in another he puts himself in a suitcase and in yet another piece he stares out of a building in anonymity. There are video installations titled “So-Called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind” where we witness him on an LSD trip, under hypnosis, and watching the birth of his child. You almost feel like a voyeur watching someone undergoing psychoanalysis.
His journey continues on another floor. At first glance it seems like you stepped into Auschwitz. This was unnerving and very eerie but you begin to see that the faces are not tortured. They are smiling, pensive, calm. Called “Venetians” this is a community of skeletal people. These are the workers and illegal immigrants whom the artist encountered while wandering through Venice. He created their faces and bodies from cast plastic and ribbons of melted plastic. He stripped their bodies of everything by which we normally would judge them and left just their faces. These are our neighbors and we can no longer ignore them.
Another entire floor is his participatory exhibit called “Draftsmen’s Congress”. Step off the elevator and there is an explosion color and activity. You may not have taken a hallucinogen but it certainly feels like you did. Grab a smock and container of paint and get to work. Let down your guard and expose the artist in you.
Pawel Althamer is a teacher who wants us to learn about community and the importance of our place within it. He shares his exploration of self and I think he hopes that we will be inspired enough to begin our own quest of who we really are and our place within this world. LAR
Admission $16/adults. Thursdays 7pm-9p pay what you wish