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Come As You Are

Come As You Are

Doug Aitken (born 1968, USA), Monsoon, 1995 Color film, sound, transferred to digital video 6 min. 43 sec. loop.
Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Doug Aitken.

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Matthew Barney (born 1967, USA), CREMASTER 4,. 1994 Production still ©1994 Matthew Barney Photo: Michael James O’Brien Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Art in the 1990’s at the Blanton Museum of Art

In many ways, isolating the art of the 1990s is an exercise in futility. But Come As You Are, an exhibition arriving at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin Feb. 21-May 15, is the first major museum exhibition to cordon off the work on the cusp of the collapse of history’s linear strictures to explore themes that arose at the turn of the millennium.

The exhibition, which originated at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, features an array of artists both prominent and less so, focusing on three key ideas: “the so-called ‘identity politics’ debates; the digital revolution; and globalization.” In 2016, many of the ideas that arose for the first time in the ’90s are now key players in national discourse. The prevalence of topics like racial and gender historical whitewashing, bodiless self-presentation on the screens of our computers, and the art world’s fingertip accessibility may be more prevalent, but are nevertheless relevant. In that way, Come As You Are offers historical context for work at the genesis of an era of art functioning not just in the finite, physical world, but also in the infinite, digital realm. With the work of 45 artists on display, the exhibition may feel like a lot to look at. With that in mind here are a few starting points.

Prema Murthy, Bindi Girl  (1999)

One of the examples of Internet art in Come As You Are is an interactive avatar, a burgeoning art form in the late 90s. New York-based artist, Prema Murthy’s “Bindi Girl” existed originally on a website where users could pose the figure in erotic poses to a soundtrack of South Asian music. In this way it explored the idea of images replacing reality for marginalized people in the digital age, offering the consumer—specifically the Western consumer—a position of dominance, and in this case, fetishization, which seems at home in the Internet’s stream of pornographic images.

Prema Murthy (born 1969, USA), Bindi Girl, 1999 Web Site (http://www.thing.net/~bindigrl/) Courtesy of the artist.
Prema Murthy (born 1969, USA), Bindi Girl, 1999 Web Site (http://www.thing.net/~bindigrl/) Courtesy of the artist.

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather  (1993)

Bahamas-born Janine Antoni’s work spans media, but often employs her physical body in some form, exploring concepts of self-representation, perception and identity. Come As You Are will feature two pieces from her “Lick and Lather” series for which she made seven chocolate and seven soap self-sculpture busts. Interested in the love/hate relationship humans, particularly women, have with their self-image, she cast her face in a mold to create these works. Then, she licked the final details into the chocolate sculptures and immersed the soap busts in the bathtub next to her. In effect, the features of the soap sculpture become blurry and muted, representing to Antoni an erasure of the self in public presentation.

Mendi and Keith Obadike, Blackness for Sale  (2001)

Assisted by the globalization of information and the proliferation of new voices, ideas of racial identity became and continue to be a key issue in the arts. For their work, “Blackness for Sale,” artists Mendi and Keith Obadike listed the blackness of Keith’s skin on the emerging auction website eBay in 2001. Their Internet performance was cut short when it was reported as inappropriate and removed from the site. Its brief lifespan notwithstanding, the piece asks questions about who is responsible for identity assignations and at what cost prejudices will be dismantled.

Kara Walker, Untitled, 1993-94

Kara Walker and her art rose to prominence in the 90s and she remains one of the most important artists working today. Perhaps her most famous works are the cutouts, a series of silhouettes which offer a peek into the historical ghosts of the United States. The piece in this exhibition features a puffed chest, top-hatted gentleman, presumably white, whose lengthy stride reveals a small child walking in his shadow, whose exaggerated features imply his blackness. Like most of her works, examination of the image grows increasingly disturbing in its overt condemnation of the whitewashing of American history. Here, the child, cute in his smallness, stretches out his hand and tongue appearing ready to fondle the man’s genitals.

Kara Walker (born 1969, USA) Untitled, 1993-4 Paper on prepared canvas 59.5 x 31.25 in. (151.1 x 79.4 cm) Stuart & Sherry Christhilf © Kara Walker Images are courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.
Kara Walker (born 1969, USA) Untitled, 1993-4 Paper on prepared canvas 59.5 x 31.25 in. (151.1 x 79.4 cm) Stuart & Sherry Christhilf © Kara Walker Images are courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Doug Aitken, Monsoon  (1996)

In the 1990s Doug Aitken became interested in the places where nature and technology overlapped and the increasingly rare encounters humans were having with the natural world. His single channel video, “Monsoon,” was filmed in Jonestown, Guyana, a place where two decades earlier Reverend Jim Jones led nearly one thousand members of the People’s Temple in a mass suicide. The camera waits patiently for a distant monsoon to break, surveying a landscape at once wild with jungle and tamed by occasional manmade roads or trucks. The rain never arrives.

Matthew Barney, The CREMASTER Cycle  (1994-2002)

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements in film to emerge from the 90s was Matthew Barney’s CREMASTER cycle. Named for a tender male muscle, the primary function of which is to respond to temperature and raise or lower the testes, the project explores sexual differentiation by creating an entire world for Barney to play in. Through his visually vivid language packed with metaphor, he explores the early stages of embryonic development when the sex organs have not yet distinguished themselves. The Blanton will screen these films, which were filmed out of order, throughout the exhibition. Check the website for times.

—LAUREN SMART