The Museum Teen Summit is a group of youth leaders who have participated in teen programs at museums around New York City. They helped the New Museum to plan and run its recent Teen Night and have a project at the upcoming IDEAS CITY StreetFest. In preparation for the Teen Night, Joygill Moriah and Maya Fell of the Museum Teen Summit interviewed New Museum Assistant Curator Margot Norton about the exhibition “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.”
Museum Teen Summit: Pepón Osorio often talks about how his work has the ability to be set in different places and seen from different angles because the work is not directly connected to the museum space. Did you find this a challenge as you made decisions on presenting his piece?
Margot Norton: This very large and ornate piece is a time-capsule that manages to communicate a complex and open-ended narrative. Osorio gave me the dimensions of the piece from his memory, and we wanted there to be enough room for people to stand back and look at it as well as be able to walk across it. It was important for us to have enough room to be able to examine the scene.
MTS: What is this work about?
MN: It is a diorama of a Puerto Rican home in New York. The scene takes place in a home where a crime has taken place. There is no specific narrative in the work and there aren’t too many clues given. The title makes the viewer look into the work to ask whether it is a real crime or if it is staged for a movie. In ’93, Osorio hired a detective to examine the crime scene, and the same detective came back to examine the piece when it was installed here.
MTS: The Scene of the Crime (Whose Crime?) was considered the highlight of the 1993 Whitney Biennial. When thinking of artists to show in this exhibition, was Osorio a must-have?
MN: There were a few pieces we thought were important. When working on an exhibition like this there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. We were really happy to show this piece. Nari Ward’s piece was one we thought of for the Studio 231 space specifically. That piece is interesting because there is another layer that comes into play when it is shown now—one wonders where the children that occupied those carriages twenty years ago are today.
MTS: The Fourth Floor has an array of pieces that work well in conjunction with each other. As a curator, what were some of the issues or some interesting things you learned while working on this floor?
MN: We thought about bringing together Felix Gonzalez-Torres with Rudolf Stingel. They were working on an exhibition together at the time, so we liked the idea of those two pieces being shown together in this installation. Robert Gober’s prison window is another one we thought of—in his work, nothing is really as it seems. He takes simple objects and reveals the psychological connotations that are within them. The piece is so simple—just the gesture of shining a light from behind bars creates an idea of hopefulness, but in reality all it is, is three bars and a fake painting of a sky behind them. There is a poetic feeling on that floor and the works have a similar tone. Kristin Oppenheim’s sound piece is a cover of a Beach Boys song, she liked the hopefulness of the lyrics “Sail On, Sailor” and it reminded me of the hopefulness in other works on this floor.
MTS: The exhibition subtitle “Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” is the title of the band Sonic Youth’s most commercially successful album at the time of its release, despite the band being mainly known in underground alternative music circles. How do you think this aspect of underground culture merging with the “mainstream” is reflective of ’90s youth culture being portrayed as very “anti-everything” but at the same time loved and embraced?
MN: I think that the attitude towards the mainstream media in ’93 is not the same as it is today. There was the fear of becoming a “sell-out,” which doesn’t really exist anymore. Sonic Youth was accused of “selling-out” when they signed with the major record label Geffen—they picked the title of their album in response to people accusing them of becoming mainstream. This tension between the underground and mainstream is what we were looking towards with this title.
MTS: How do you think artists were responding to this tension in 1993 as opposed to now?
MN: Well, you don't look down on someone “selling-out” as much as you used to. Many of the artists of this era responded to the grittiness of NYC. Now, it is a different city, it is a different time. Also, some artworks created in ’93 are still important now but in a different context. For example, In the Hood (1993) by David Hammons takes on another connotation in the present with the Trayvon Martin case. In Isla en la Isla (1993), Gabriel Orozco created a replica of the NYC skyline out of garbage, now the skyline has been changed forever, and the piece takes on an added significance. There is also certainly nostalgia today for a harsher, grittier New York.
MTS: A lot of the curators of this exhibition were teenagers during 1993, is that right?
MN: Yeah, 1993 was a very formative year for us.
MTS: Having seen and experienced the youth of 1993, what do you think are some major changes between the youth and culture then to how it is now?
MN: There are differences in how youth asserted their identity then compared to now. In 1993, there was also a heightened awareness of differences, multiculturalism, and LGBT issues.
MTS: It seems like now we can have multiple identities, whereas in ’93 you had to pick one and stick to it.
MN: I remember that there was a lot of pressure to declare what you were and how you were defined. It’s a great thing to be able to do multiple things and explore multiple interests.
There were a lot of artists doing social experiments with their work. Art Club 2000 were looking at the consumer environment: they photographed themselves in Gap clothing, posed as advertisements that promised coolness. Works like this exposed elements in culture that were overlooked and brought issues to the forefront.
MTS: Art Club talked about consumer identities, but did ’93 reflect the last time someone could create an identity before the internet came into play?
MN: You have to see Alex Bag’s video Untitled (Spring 94) on the Fifth Floor—it is all about recreating what you saw on television and how one relates to those images. In 1993, there was a trend of people taking the camera and turning it on themselves to in order to assert their identity. Alex Bag does these parodies of ads and shows on TV. It is split into segments, and is a sort of a precursor to YouTube. In 1993, the internet was only one year old, but it was before the World Wide Web so it wasn’t really part of public consciousness yet.
—Assistant Curator Margot Norton was interviewed by Joygill Moriah and Maya Fell.