Contributed by Sharon Butler / “Songs for Sabotage,” the 2018 iteration of the New Museum Triennial, curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari and Francesca Altamura of the New Museum, and Alex Gartenfeld of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, features elegantly installed, dimly-lit work by an international group of artists. Many of them have interdisciplinary practices comprising performance, installation, and more, but the work selected privileges making over technology, performance, or readymade objects. Perhaps this turn away from first-world approaches that leverage funding and tech acknowledges that, at some point, like Puerto Rico, we may face a post-technological, non-electrical future. The power grid may not be forever.
At the same time, the curators have put together a show in which the notion of protest is wittingly slippery. Rather than announcing a belligerent call-to-arms, political ideas tend to lurk below beautiful surfaces and materials – as they must when risk of punishment and retribution is real. In the NYTimes, art critic Holland Cotter suggests that the show looks great but plays it safe, and that seems to be the point. Political artists enduring autocratic and dictatorial regimes are compelled by self-preservation to hide radical ideas behind skill and craft. In this country, artists have long enjoyed free speech hampered only by market forces and marginal hate-speech prohibitions; they have rarely faced serious consequences for overt political engagement. “Songs for Sabotage” is a primer on how to explore political disruption in a genuinely repressive environment, without seeming at first glance to challenge the status quo.
“2018 Triennial: Songs for Sabotage,” curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator at the New Museum, and Alex Gartenfeld, founding Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, with Francesca Altamura, Curatorial Assistant. The New Museum, LES, New York, NY. Through May 27, 2018.