Intimate 'Storylines' Go on Display at the Guggenheim
The museum’s summer show tracks identity in the age of social media—and beyond.
Agnieszka Kurant, The End of Signature, 2015. Site-specific projection, autopen machine, paper, pen, custom pedestal, and collection slot, dimensions variable. Pending acquisition, courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York X.2014.651 © Agnieszka Kurant. Installation view: Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, June 5–September 9, 2015. Photo: Kristopher McKay © SRGF
The first narrative is Maurizio Cattelan’s take on the childhood tale of Pinocchio: In Cattelan’s Daddy, the titular 3-foot-tall sculpture lies face down in the fountain of the museum’s rotunda—presumably for lies he told. This is Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, the museum's summer show, in which artists tell personal stories about gender, race, class, and the fluidity of identity, as forged through the internet era. “Experiencing the exhibition as a whole, the story that emerges is one of multiplicity: of varied and shared experiences between artists and their artworks, artists and their personal or cultural stories, and about how viewers respond and react to these perspectives and stories,” assistant curator Carmen Hermo, who help put together the show, tells The Creators Project. “With 48 artists and over 100 works in the exhibition—some much more directly “narrative” than others—it’s a survey of recent storytelling strategies in contemporary global art."
Storylines uses the late 1990s and 2000s as a point of departure. It was a time when young artists started turning away from abstraction as a form of realizing the complications of identity. These artists, like Matthew Barney, Zanele Muholi, and Ryan McGinley, who are all a part of the show, sought to inject themselves and notions of identity that they believed in into their work. “In some ways, the turn back to narrative in the 1990s feels like a response to the political atmosphere," explains Hermo of the narratives that weave throughout the ramps of the museum. "Institutional critique sought to dismantle how 'the man'—be it politics, society, or even museums—represents people and cultures. From there, artists took up the challenge to really take control of their own narratives and exert agency over their representation. Speaking for one’s self, and speaking to the stories of one’s community, became paramount at this time.”
Juliana Huxtable’s portrait Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm), which depicts her own trans body in a “Nuwaubian” fantasy. Huxtable presents herself as partly a member of the “Nuwaubian” cult she found on Tumblr and part cyborg. Social documentary photographer Catherine Opie’s Self Portrait/Pervert depicts Opie as a member of the gay and lesbian BDSM community dressed in a black leather mask with the word “pervert” carved into her chest. Both artists seek to draw attention to sexual identities that have until recently existed with very little fluidity. Taken together, the two pieces allow the artists to use self-portraiture to place claims on the fluidity of their own physical identities and allow the artists to achieve a form of visibility that takes back the narratives surrounding their bodies. “Self-portraits by artists like Juliana Huxtable and Catherine Opie brazenly plumb sexuality as a theme for portraiture, again allowing their experiences to tell a defined story,” notes Hermo of the photographic portraits of women sitting in empowered poses—without the presence of shame.
Collective identity is also on display in Glenn Ligon's Prisoner of Love oil on canvas series. “The oldest works in the exhibition, represent [Ligon’s] reclamation of a hegemonic or stereotypical view of African-American culture, twisting a quotation from Jean Genet’s autobiography”—that reads, “We are the ink that gives the white page meaning" until the oil slick stencil becomes clogged and the words become illegible and only the blackness remains—“to instead reflect on actual cultural experience, and effectively energizing it with truth and testimony,” says Hermo of the work. Kevin Beasley’s Strange Fruit sculptures, that function as active speakers that emit sound, also draw on group identity, but with the purpose of raising questions about the material histories of communities. Beasley, who hangs resin covered Nike Air Jordan 1 shoes, socks, shoelaces, cables, microphones, and speakers from the ceiling of the Guggenheim, uses the positioning of the sculptures and their names, which allude to the well-known Billie Holiday songs, to detail the period in which African-American’s were hung from trees like "strange fruit," yet also to allude to the communal gesture of throwing old sneakers across a telephone pole. The results question how present-day shared experiences and practices can be subtly linked to a bygone era.
Most of the work in the show was created after 2005, and another sub-narrative that prominently spirals throughout the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim, is the ways in which social media increasingly tells stories about art. "The multiplicity that is at the heart of Storylines is propelled by this younger generation of artists, who are aware and at times completely embrace multiplicity of forms and platforms for their stories, as well as a willingness to 'share' their stories as artworks,” explains Hermo. "A work like Alexandre Singh’s collage installation Assembly Instructions (An Immodern Romanticism) engages in the visual vocabulary of hyperlinking connections, but also shows how grand narratives remain unchanged in the face of developing technologies.”
Storylines is on view at the Guggenheim through September 9, 2015.