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The 10 Most Interesting Works From the New Museum’s Triennial

At a sprawling, ambitious show, sometimes it’s the small things that stand out

The New Museum’s Triennial opened today in New York. The exhibit, titled “Surround Audience,” is organized by the museum’s own curator, Lauren Cornell, along with Ryan Trecartin, a video artist known for creating manic videos and installations featuring him, his friends, and a seemingly limitless supply of face paint and props. Together, Cornell, Trecartin, and a number of curatorial assistants have assembled works by 51 artists from 25 countries that span sculpture, performance, painting, and in the case of an installation by the collective DIS, a hybrid kitchen-bathroom fabricated by the high-end appliance maker Dornbracht. 

That’s right. A kitchen-slash-bathroom.

To outsiders, contemporary art can often feel remote or convoluted, and sometimes it is. In other instances, though—especially in a museum context such as the Triennial's—there’s a wealth of interesting, dynamic, and thought-provoking material waiting to be unpacked. Often it’s just a matter of knowing how to approach the work on display and what to look for when you see it. 

At this year’s Triennial, which is jammed with an overwhelming amount of art, it’s easy to overlook some of the better works because there are so many vying for your consideration. Monumental interactive bunkers by the artist Nadim Abbas or a bright, looming installation by the artist Guan Xiao might grab your attention, but smaller works are the stars of the show. I’m thinking of a sound installation by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, or taut, weird paintings by Sascha Braunig, or a looped video installation by the comedian/ artist Casey Jane Ellison.

In an effort to make your visit as streamlined as possible, here’s a cheat sheet of 10 artists from this year’s Triennial to look for.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Detail of Tape Echo, 2013-14 

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Detail of

Abu Hamdan's installation includes lightboxes, headphones, and tapedecks and is inspired by Cairo's noise pollution.

Source: The New Museum via Bloomberg

Frank Benson, Juliana, 2015

Frank Benson,

Benson created a lifesize, anatomically accurate, eerily painted sculpture of the transgender artist Juliana Huxtable.

Source: The New Museum via Bloomberg

Sascha Braunig, Chur, 2014

Sascha Braunig,

Braunig's alien, vaguely disfigured paintings are some of the most formally traditional art on view, but they're also some of the finest.

Source: The New Museum via Bloomberg

Antoine Catala, Distant Feel, 2015

Antoine Catala,

Catala actually hired a New York advertising company to create a brand campaign and symbol for "empathy."

Source: The New Museum via Bloomberg

DIS, The Island (Ken), 2015


The art collective DIS fabricated a half-kitchen, half-bathroom installation, a commentary on when slick design becomes too slick. 

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Shadi Habib Allah, untitled video still

Shadi Habib Allah, untitled video still

A still from Habib Allah's film that documents multiple trips the artist took along a Bedouin smuggling network.

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Casey Jane Ellison, It's So Important to Seem Wonderful II, 2015

Casey Jane Ellison,

Ellison is known for both her stand-up comedy and her parodic Web series, Touching the Art. This is a still from her latest video, installed in the Triennial.

Source: The New Museum via Bloomberg


Geumhyung Jeong, Fitness Guide, (2011) 

Geumhyung Jeong,

Jeong modified exercise machines to use in vaguely erotic, often disturbing performances.

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Shreyas Karle, selection from the Museum Shop of Fetish Objects, 2012

Shreyas Karle, He-she object, from “Museum Shop of Fetish Objects,” 2012

Karle's art revolves around a critique of Indian mass culture—this work, which is meant (somewhat satirically) to be used by both a man and a woman in a sex act, is part of a larger work that delves into the misogyny of Bollywood.

Source: The New Museum via Bloomberg

Li Liao, Consumption, (2012)

Li Liao,

As part of an ongoing engagement with China's economic rise, Liao took a job working in a factory in Shenzhen, inspecting scans of circuit boards for iPads for 12 hours a day. The project went on for 45 days, exactly the amount of time it took to earn enough to buy an iPad with the wages.

Source: The New Museum via Bloomberg


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