The New Museum’s Ostalgia, on view until September 25th, takes up almost all of the museum’s exhibition space, including the lobby. And the elevators. It’s literally floors upon floors of art that ranges from paintings to video installations to a car mounted on a wall. According to curator Massimiliano Gioni, the exhibition falls in line with the New Museum’s mission statement, which is to showcase art that New York doesn’t usually see. It might be hard to think of things that New York doesn’t see, but a massive exhibition of Soviet and post-Soviet art by over 50 artists across 20 countries is probably one of them. It’s gigantic and disorienting, which is exactly what Gioni was going for.
“I wanted it to be overwhelming. I want the viewer to sink deeper and deeper,” he says. “It’s a show about an entire universe.” Indeed, the Soviet Union was quite large, and in spite of the overarching regulator of Communism, it was incredibly diverse. Ostalgia makes no attempt to gloss over or summarize anything. The exhibition in general toes a fine line between sensory overload and incisive contemplation. At times it invites interaction and physical participation – like turning the pages of an album – while at others it functions like an archaeological archive, coating objects with a dense varnish of history and personal testimony.
Gioni makes it very clear that Ostalgia is in no way objective. Upon entering the exhibition, we are greeted with a laundry list of caveats: this isn’t meant to be chronological, geographical, biographical, etc. “It’s a show that is very much like memory,” explains Gioni. “It’s personal, unreliable often, but it’s incredibly emotionally charged.” It doesn’t solely aim to preserve a period of history that many want to forget; Ostalgia is mainly about the states of being and thinking that emerged out of that collective – and individual – experience. In that sense, whether viewers like it or not, the show is definitely an entire universe in itself.