Good news, everyone: Beavis and Butthead are 20 years old. The year 1993 began with the split of Czechoslovakia and ended (though few knew it at the time) with the murder of Brandon Teena. In between were peace attempts in the Mideast, a major LGBT march in Washington, a national health care debate and a couple of action pics from Sylvester Stallone.
“Though it’s 20 years ago, it feels like the world we’re living in now,” says Gary Carrion-Murayari, one of the curators of the New Museum’s exhibit “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” (a nod to Sonic Youth). The exhibition presents pieces that either originated out of the city’s thriving art scene or debuted at one of its galleries.
Despite reminders of 20 -year-old events — as seen on the 12 TVs on the fifth floor that relentlessly spin through the events of each of the year’s days — the series is not about nostalgia. Instead it’s a dialogue with the past. Though in several cases little has changed, the works show artists confronting major socio-political issues, sometimes for the first time. Race, gender politics, homosexuality, the family, mortality, taste — all are bluntly questioned. Marlene McCarthy’s “In Honor of Allen R. Schindler” pays tribute to soldiers murdered for their homosexuality, while Cheryl Donegan’s video “Head” confronts the sexualization of women.
“We identified 1993 as this turning point in which there emerged a new generation separate from the one in the ‘80s. There were a number of exhibitions that year that broke this new generation of New York artists to the larger world,” says Carrion-Murayari. Indeed, one can see some of the first public pieces by Matthew Barney, John Currin and Sean Landers. The exhibit also features work by already-established names, like Cindy Sherman, Todd Haynes and Brit Derek Jarman, represented by “Blue,” his filmic swan song, made when he had partially lost his sight due to AIDS-related complications. (He died the next year.)
Not all of the work was appreciated at the time. Carrion-Murayari brings up Glenn Ligon, whose work — including his amusingly conceptual “Red Portfolio” photos, on display in the exhibit — initially drew ire. Today he’s hailed as a great artist. “Some works have lost their shock value,” she says. “But that allows us to be more considerate and more thoughtful about what they mean.”