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The Dream of the '90s Is Alive at the New Museum

At a press preview yesterday morning for NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, which is now open and occupies all five floors of the New Museum, curator Massimiliano Giani explained the significance of the title the exhibition borrowed from a Sonic Youth album. "It signaled a shift between the grittier New York, a moment in which the underground as a concept destabilized and changed to a world in which ideas of underground and mainstream became much more entangled and complicated."

Sonic Youth's archetype -- a noisy, arty band on a major label -- could be seen as a model for many of the artists in the show, an experimental jet set who used modest materials (trash) to turn themselves into stars. Stripping Andy Warhol's "superstar" concept of its glamour, they perhaps prefigured the oversharing enabled by the internet. (As Gioni told the assembled press, "1993 was the year the first blog was published. Many of us are here thanks to that.")

Larry Clark, 1993 Wall Piece, 2013

Behind him, Larry Clark's 1993 Wall Piece, a mixed-media assemblage of graphic skateboard decks, Kids casting shots and Clark's sticker-covered front door, updated Warhol's notions of celebrity to include '90s 'it' kids like Chloë Sevigny. Works by Wolfgang Tillmans, Lina Bertucci and Devon Dikeou take their friends and peers as subjects. Elizabeth Peyton and Kathe Burkhart pay homage to earlier eras' celebrities.

Paul McCarthy, Cultural Gothic, 1992 [foreground] and Sean Landers, [sic], 1993

At least 13 works qualify as self-portraits, if you count Gabriel Orozco's Yielding Stone, a plasticine ball measured to the artist's exact weight, and Sean Landers's [sic], 451 pages of scrawled diary entries. For artists coming up in the early nineties, especially those who weren't straight white men (the exhibition's women artists outnumber the men, 38 to 37), the personal was political, duh. Derek Jarman's Blue and Gregg Bordowitz's Fast Trip, Long Drop are both video works about the artists' AIDS diagnoses.

Nayland Blake, Equipment for a Shameful Epic, 1993

The disease seems to hang over the show, visible in works like Andres Serrano's morgue photograph AIDS-Related Death, which shares a room with John Miller's photographs of buildings that formerly housed gay bathhouses. 2013's nostalgia for 1993 yields to 1993's nostalgia for a time before AIDS. Turn around, and John Currin's two Girls in Bed paintings look a lot like girls in deathbeds. Nearby, Nayland Blake's Equipment for a Shameful Epic links sex to death, displaying prop scythes and bloody appendages on a coat rack next to a playscript titled "Asses Together."

Jason Rhoades, Garage Renovation New York (Cherry Makita), 1993

Almost everything in the show is personal, intimate, handmade. Jason Rhoades's large installation Garage Renovation New York (Cherry Makita) consists mostly of cardboard and foil. Sadie Benning's video It Wasn't Love is shot on a Fisher-Price camcorder. One recurring theme is lo-fi appropriation of mass culture, as in Karen Kilimnik's remix of the black comedy Heathers and Kristin Oppenheim's a capella cover of the Beach Boys' "Sail on, Sailor," which plays on loop on the fourth floor.

Still from Cheryl Donegan, Head, 1993

Some works manage to be funny and sexy as they challenge the viewer's gaze, daring you to judge them. Cheryl Donegan's Head depicts the artist lapping up milk to the tune of Sugar's "A Good Idea." Art Club 2000, a group of Cooper Union undergrads, posed around Manhattan in GAP clothes, even taking out a fake GAP ad in Artforum. Slick and vapid, yes, but it's hard to look at the pictures without wishing you could have taken part. In the lobby, the museum has recreated Rirkrit Tiravanija's Untitled (1271), where lunch will be served everyday from one to two, albeit Cup Noodles instead of Tiravanija's trademark Thai curry.

Wolfgang Staehle, The Thing BBS login screen, 1993

The exhibition's most prescient work isn't even visible in its intended form. Peter Halley's Superdream Mutation was initially made available for sale via a pre-World Wide Web BBS network. The New Museum display features a print-out of the image, a computer bearing the log-in screen and a floppy disk, on which is written "Peter Halley GIF." Even in 1993, GIFs could be art.

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