The New Museum Triennial Offers a Dazzling and Dystopian Vision of the Future

The figure is back. This, according to New Museum’s Triennial “Surround Audience,” which offers a near-deafening obsession with the self, is its main thesis. Curated by Lauren Cornell and artist Ryan Trecartin, the exhibition takes a look at how technology affects us, a focus that mercifully puts a plug in New York’s seemingly endless supply of non-objective abstraction.

And by the looks of the Triennial, the results of such self-obsession are pretty good. Bold monumental portraits tower over the second floor galleries, while exaggerated interpretations of the present and dystopian trippy visions of the future permeate the show. Activism is everywhere. This is what a strong show looks like.

Certainly, the best example of this is Josh Kline’s Freedom (2015) an installation modeled after Zuccotti Park, the one-time site of Occupy Wall Street. In it, life-sized SWAT team police dolls carry iPads on their bellies—each containing a video showing a social media commenter who has had his or her face overlaid with facial recognition software. Their scripts—found internet clippings—are read by retired police officers.

It’s a thoughtful touch that reflects the reality of social media. In the same way that the voice reading Kline’s script will remain anonymous until the wall label is read, Twitter and Instagram users often don’t know the background of fellow users without a little research. Often that research never gets done, which is why the imperfectness of Kline’s facial recognition software makes so much sense. The construction of identity online isn’t so much incorrect, as it is incomplete.

Behind these figures is a projection of what appears to be President Obama giving the State of the Union address. As with the social media commenters, his face is reconstructed too, and the speech is orated not by Obama, but by the world’s most famous Obama impersonator. The President, here, is transformed into a mere puppet; his words a transparent illusion of freedom, hope, and change.

That sentiment feels pervasive in “Surround Audience” and given its focus on technology and social media, that’s no surprise. Good news rarely makes headlines. This focus, combined with that of the body, may also explain why so many interactive works stood out. DIS Magazine‘s installation The Island (KEN) (2015), a functioning shower bed done in collaboration with Dornbracht (a manufacturer of high-end bathroom and kitchen fixtures), promises plenty of foot traffic. During the press preview, a woman in office-wear took a shower fully clothed as part of the performance. An attractive kid in brandless jogging pants mopped up the mess. Points to DIS for creating a spectacle out of this vision of capitalism gone awry, but how about pitching a way out of this hell hole? Living in said system is absurd enough.

Fro tyhe complete review by Paddy Johnson for Art News, please click here.