At the New Museum’s fourth triennial launched earlier last week in Manhattan, Songs for Sabotage, emerging artists were given a chance to address the entrenched power structures found in cities and our social superstructures. Thirty artists from nineteen countries put forth calls for public action and political engagement, across every medium.
Attempting to reconcile art and politics is never a pretty process, and Songs for Sabotage puts that disparity front and center. The public views images of ruling class-based propaganda on a daily basis, whether they’re posters, movies, or public sculptures; the artists of Songs for Sabotage have presented their vision of an internationalist counter-narrative, using the same forms of media.
The broad prompt has resulted in a show with art in a wide variety of styles and media on display. Daniela Ortiz has waded into the debate over polarizing historical monuments with replacement proposals for controversial statues, using ceramic sculptures that emphasize the place of native peoples in America’s history. Columbus (Colón) shows a beheaded version of the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle, while her other proposals depict oppressed peoples rising above their historical colonizers.
Reinterpreting and tweaking the familiar sights of city dwellers is a common scene in Songs for Sabotage. Zhenya Machneva has woven industrial scenes and workshops into massive tapestries, softening these dangerous or harsh built places. Hong Kong-based artist Wong Ping has contributed Wong Ping’s Fables, a series of three videos where bipedal animals and living emoji reenact trivial day-to-day tasks, appended with a nonsensical moral, with each story drawing attention to the difficulties faced by the poor and powerless.
The digital and sculptural works are only small pieces of a massive three-floor show, and every work takes the adage that “the medium is the message” to heart. Painting, industrial design, mixed-media pieces and architectural metalworks are abundant throughout, as are commentaries on colonialism and continued narratives of oppression perpetuated through mass media.
Songs for Sabotage was curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, New Museum’s Kraus Family Curator, and Alex Gartenfeld, Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, with Francesca Altamura, Curatorial Assistant. The show will run from February 13, 2018, through May 27, 2018.