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It may be true, as OHWOW's press release breathlessly claims, that theirs is “a group exhibition distinct of a decade and definitive of era,” but if so, it's an era that, thus defined, is distinguished mainly by its forgettability. Poorly curated, with equally little to offer to fans of the nine artists represented in the show as to the uninitiated, Post 9/11 fails to make the case for the significance of the ten or so post-millennial years of New York art-making with which it's concerned.
The problem begins, chronologically at least, with Ryan McGinley, a photographer who is credited with first bringing together this group of artists in the early part of the last decade, and who was among the first of them to achieve widespread recognition. That moment came in 2003, when his Whitney exhibition The Kids Are Alright brought the world's attention to the irreverent antics of his friends, including the artists Dan Colen and Dash Snow, who are also featured in Post 9/11. At the time, McGinley was only twenty-six.
Naturally, given such early and spectacular success, his work has been subject to an inevitable backlash. His detractors see him as overly derivative of earlier photographers like Nan Goldin and Larry Clark, with the difference that his version of the demi-monde is skimmed of the emotional weight that rendered their subjects unsuitable for shilling jeans, as McGinley has done in ad campaigns for Levi's and Wrangler.
Yet the two photographs of his featured in Post 9/11 have little to do with such concerns. Depicting lone individuals in ethereally gold environments, Tom (Golden Tunnel) and Taylor (Rushing River), both 2011, suffer from bland compositions that do nothing to redeem the trite ways with which McGinley attempts to suggest existential sublimity—a figure walking into a tunnel with a light at the end and a figure overwhelmed by a torrent of water, respectively. In this light, the controversies that McGinley's work has provoked in the past are beside the point here; these are simply awful photographs.
Most of the other work in the show fares better, though only just. Dash Snow's two photographs, for instance, are merely inoffensive. Untitled, 2008, depicts a reddish-orange splatter of vomit, or something, and Untitled, 2005, shows three shirtless and masked men mugging in front of an ash-covered taxicab somewhere near Ground Zero. In both cases, the intent to provoke is so transparent that it renders the works harmless, instances of marketably rebellious posturing devoid of anything genuinely subversive – though Untitled, 2005, does at least make me wish that Snow, rather than McGinley, had been chosen for Levi's “Go Forth” campaign. In any case, Post 9/11 leaves open the question of the lasting value of Snow's work, minus the cult of personality that adhered to him during his unfortunately short life.
Installation view, photo by Joshua White. Courtesy OHWOW Gallery.
In fact, a similar question arises with regard to the work of the living artists in the show, whose supposedly rebellious lifestyles have been the subject of at least as much attention as their work. For me, the problem is that doing a lot of cocaine and shoplifting from charities, in itself, doesn't actually seem like a very remarkable or radical way to spend one's time. Baudelaire wasn't interesting because he ate hash and consorted with prostitutes, but because he wrote groundbreaking poetry, and in the case of the artists in Post 9/11, the work just isn't there.
Agathe Snow, for instance, here presents a series of three wall pieces made of cardboard boxes stuffed with things like eggshells and hay and held together by packing tape. The titles of these works are drawn from or designed to imitate popular entertainment, as in the case of Live with Regis and Kelly, 2007, and seem therefore to comment on the disposability of contemporary culture and the ethics of consumption. This point, however, has been facile for some time, and it's difficult to imagine an easier or less ambitious target than daytime television. Even on a material level, these pieces lack the sophistication of earlier assemblage artists like George Herms, and thus contribute to Post 9/11's unintentional illustration of the kind of provincialism bred by major cities.
Likewise, Dan Colen's Blop!, 2011, which uses tar and feathers as paint, evinces a formal cleverness that seems entirely satisfied with itself, content with its most obvious possible application as a vague, playful comment on abjection in art. However, Colen also contributes the show's best work, an untitled collaboration with Nate Lowman in which the sculptural use of a ruined saxophone expresses the basically reactionary destructiveness typical of many of the artists in Post 9/11 with a poetic and sour grace.
Admittedly, a great deal of the fault here may lie with the curation, whose flaws can be illustrated by Terence Koh's contribution, a white neon sign that reads “the next generation.” Koh has certainly done much stronger work in other venues, but this piece does nothing to indicate what those strengths might have been, and in the context of a show that seems to consist mainly of whatever didn't sell elsewhere, it ends up feeling like a groundless boast.
In short, the thing about cocaine is that it only makes you feel like you're interesting, and Post 9/11 paints a portrait of a mostly dull generation of artists that has yet to come down.