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Nude Satyrs, Stuffed Goat Sex Can’t Save ‘1993’ Show

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'Cultural Gothic'
"Cultural Gothic" (1992) by Paul McCarthy, an automated life-size mannequin tableau. "NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star," runs through May 26 at the New Museum. Photographer: Benoit Pailley/New Museum via Bloomberg

     Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Paul McCarthy’s animated, life size-mannequin tableau “Cultural Gothic” at first suggests a benign department store window display. It actually depicts a boy having sexual intercourse with a stuffed goat, as his father approvingly looks on.

In Cheryl Donegan’s video, “Head,” there’s a green plastic bottle spewing what looks like milk.

Two nude satyrs wrestle in the back of a moving limousine in Matthew Barney’s film “Drawing Restraint 7.”

And the looped video in a Lutz Bacher piece has footage from William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial -- he repeats the mantra: “Uh, I did have my penis ... inside her.”

They are all part of “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star,” the New Museum’s huge, five-floor show named after an album by Sonic Youth.

The curators reason that 1993 marks the year when issues we are still dealing with today, from gay rights and gun control to multiculturalism and identity politics, took center stage. It was also when many of the art stars represented here, including Matthew Barney, John Currin and Paul McCarthy, were emerging on the New York scene.

It begins on the fifth floor with 12 video monitors that act as a monthly visual timeline of the news and events from that year.

Sexual Identity

The provocative and politically-charged art on view addresses the same subjects: the AIDS crisis, violence, feminism, sexual and racial identity.

Only a few works rise above agitprop. Affecting yet dismal is Nari Ward’s low-lit sculpture and soundwork “Amazing Grace.” It comprises an oval assemblage of some 300 discarded baby strollers harnessed together by old fire hoses. It’s installed next door in the annex.

Also worthwhile are straightforward documentary photographs of Cleveland, Ohio, by John Miller, and of Sarajevo by Annie Leibovitz, including a portrait of Susan Sontag amid rubble and a child’s downed bicycle in a skid-mark of blood.

These images catapult us back to the realities of 1993.

On a different note, Robert Gober’s sculpture “Prison Window” is a teasing little slice of sunny hope embedded high on a gallery wall.

Light Bulbs

A large, spare multi-artist installation on the fourth floor offers temporary oasis. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s wraparound photographic mural depicting two birds in flight provides backdrop for his dangling strings of light bulbs.

Kristin Oppenheim’s luscious audio work “Sail on Sailor” helps to aerate the overpowering smell of Rudolf Stingel’s orange wall-to-wall carpet.

It’s the most imaginative and effectively orchestrated area of this generally uninspired and unoriginal exhibition.

“NYC 1993” could have been a fresh reexamination of a turbulent period. Instead, it is primarily a rehash of the narrow-minded 1993 Whitney Biennial. Text-laden and installation-heavy, that Biennial was aesthetically vapid and most of the working artists I respect chose to boycott it.

This show, as a self-proclaimed “time capsule,” is an exhibition built on hindsight, yet it’s flying blind.

“NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” runs through May 26 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery. Information: +1-212-219-1222; http://www.newmuseum.org.

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham’s podcast and Zinta Lundborg’s NYC Weekend Best.

To contact the writer on the story: Lance Esplund, in New York, at lesplund@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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