Peter Schjeldahl: “Ghosts in the Machine” at the New Museum

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ABSTRACT: THE ART WORLD review of “Ghosts in the Machine,” at the New Museum. “Ghosts in the Machine” is a big, busy, historical show of wonky art, rummaging in old romances with the technological sublime. There are hundreds of works, ranging from early-twentieth-century drawings by asylum inmates who felt invaded by machinery to relics of utopian movements that flared and faded in the nineteen-fifties and sixties. “Ghosts” bypasses canonical modernism, mostly ignoring the familiar machine-inspired stylings of Futurists, Dadaists, Russian Constructivists, and adherents of the Bauhaus. The curators, Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari, concentrate on things that were true to their moments but barely outlasted them, if at all. The result is a field of sputtering dreams. Gioni terms the show a Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities. Inevitably, the show’s spectral doyen is Marcel Duchamp. Mentions Duchamp’s “Large Glass” (1915-23). A mural, from 1963, by Francois Morellet, inspired a new work created for the museum’s ground floor: thousands of little red and blue squares, arranged according to the sequence of even and odd numbers in pi. It’s funny and gorgeous. Most of what survives from the movements is tedious gimmickry. Aesthetic relief also arrives with beautiful installations, in darkened rooms, by the German Otto Piene and by the Italian Gianni Colombo. The old analogies between machines and human bodies are defunct. Every technological advance is violent, altering the world in a flash. “Ghosts” is about the pleasure and dreads that artists, the most excitable of people, have taken in such onsets before their never predictable consequences.

Peter Schjeldahl, The Art World, “Machine Dreams,” The New Yorker, August 6, 2012, p. 74 has a complete archive of The New Yorker, back to 1925. The complete archive is
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