The New Museum Presents “Ghosts In The Machine”

The New Museum should be renamed “The Way Ahead of Itself Museum.”  The curators take cutting edge and shred it to the core. Their bold vision never fails to awaken my eyes to another point of view, and to think outside the box I unknowingly erected around my life.  It’s no longer a matter of staying between the lines…there are no lines.


The exhibition view (Photo Credits: Benoit Pailley)


I continuously leave there with a miasma of intellectual thoughts, a definitive spring in my step, and a perplexed, but bemused grin.  I manage to cross streets, but I can barely obey the traffic lights.  My head is awash in ideas; I am totally preoccupied with what I have just experienced at The New Museum.  Its current special exhibition, aptly titled “Ghosts in the Machine,” is chasing the cobwebs out of my sleepy summer brain.  So take heed, be prepared for this brave new exhibit on display until September 30, and careful crossing streets upon leaving.

This sharp, refreshingly original show represents and visually explores the necessary and sometimes adversarial relationship between art and machines.  As I was still learning how to change the ribbon on my typewriter, we entered an unheralded technological, digital age. While in the dark room developing 35 mm prints, a PC was put on my desk.  In the time it takes to heat coffee in a microwave, a major divide was inevitably erected between humans and computers. Invariably, we ask ourselves, “Who serves who?”   At “Ghosts in the Machine” we are allowed to catch our breath, breathe…pause…and attempt to figure out what just happened. How does it all fit in and serve our world?

“This is by no means a historical display, rather an attempt to come to grips with some valid fears and to understand the power — and ultimately the beauty — behind today’s mechanical, media soaked world.”

One of the curators for this particular exhibit, Massimiliano Gioni, explained that this display of some 140 non-chronological works is a pre-history lesson prior to the digital age, an attempt to come to terms with the journey from the mechanical to the optical to the virtual.  And, as this clever curator asks, “What if the engine breaks?”  This is by no means a historical display, rather an attempt to come to grips with some valid fears and to understand the power — and ultimately the beauty — behind today’s mechanical, media soaked world.  We are asked to rethink the role of contemporary art and contemplate a necessary, inevitable integration between art and science.

The ultimate challenge to the viewer is to turn these works into an aesthete; this is kinetic, organic, evolving art — an idea whose time has come.  Not only does this exhibit assist in exploring its origins, but it points the way towards a rapidly approaching future where man and womankind must find a way to connect the dots.  Every medium imaginable is represented in this exhibit…and then some.



As soon as you enter the building you are immediately confronted with a bold floor to ceiling wall maze of red and blue configurations by French artist Francois Morellet.  These are the brave colors of Superman, the comic book hero; a playful but deliberate choice of hues.  You realize it all totals to something, there is a method to this madness. This vinyl enormity is the perfect start to this current exhibit as we learn that this is a random distribution of some 320,000 squares, using the pi decimals, 50 percent odd digit blue and 50 percent even digit red.  The tone is set. Prepare your senses and keep you mind sharp.

As you make your way thru this “cabinet of curiosities,” an ocean’s depth of thought is required of the viewer.  Initially, you think you are in a world of disdainful mechanical silliness, or why all the deliberate Rube Goldberg references?  The inevitable “huh?” comes to mind constantly as you tour a myriad of displays. Each piece challenges you to call on everything you know.  But in a subtle manner you are coerced into thinking with a new perspective while attempting to come to terms with each piece as not necessarily a solo piece of art, but as a contribution, in whatever way, to our current mode of individual existence. All parts form the whole. You are gently forced to contemplate, if not necessarily understand, the meaning, the plan behind the object, not merely the object itself.

Consider the avant-garde “Movie-Drome” created by the filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek.  As you enter a domed hemispherical tent, synonymous to entering a half unisphere, you are assaulted with an energetic, continuous flow of images and slide projections. You actually lay on your back in order to fully appreciate this display.  Assuming a new posture in which to view these rapid visuals presents the perfect metaphor for viewing the brave new world we have inevitably entered.

“The Blue Sail” on display, an overly large square of beautiful blue chiffon fabric floating in the air while blown by a mechanical fan, assures us that beauty and machine can indeed co-exist.   You leave this unconventional exhibit knowing there is order in the universe, chaos does not rule, and there is a satisfied, organized silence surrounding all this joyful noise.  It is no longer a matter of polar opposites, but an intelligent integration of choices.


"The Blue Sail"


Plan on spending some quality quantitative time at “Ghosts in the Machine” at The New Museum. This is not a breezy jaunt!  There is a café and a gift shop ground level to ensure a comfortable visit while offering an opportunity to gather your thoughts before you step back into the gritty downtown streets.

 I urge you to share your thoughts on this exhibit; I would love to hear your feedback.

WHAT:  “Ghosts in the Machine” until September 30, 2012
WHERE:  The New Museum
235 Bowery (at Prince Street) 
New York, New York
212. 219.1222
NOTE: The New Museum is FREE Thursdays from 7pm to 9pm

By: Joanne Theodorou