Before I got sidetracked by humorous Russian news of strikingly different varieties, I wanted to continue to talk about spaceships. Méliès’s 1902 Trip to the Moon worked like a canon. The spaceship available at the New Museum right now are of a much more technically sophisticated variety. Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module is a new exhibition on the fifth floor of the New Museum. The exhibition itself recreates the interior of the spaceship Ikarie XB-1, after the 1963 Czechoslovakian film of the same name.
Above, stills from Ikarie XB 1, below interior of New Museum
Between post-WWII and pre-1989, space could be an escape valve for countries of the Eastern Bloc, as they imagined Socialist utopias on Mars, reached through the inevitable progress of science and society. These fantasies were represented in science fiction films and novels, of course, but also reflected in the visual arts. The premise is fascinating. However, this thematic was only partially engaged in in the works on view, as the exhibition organizers, tranzit, also wanted to show their organization’s practice and growth in the Eastern European region. The show felt fractured because of that, and perhaps hard to grasp even if you didn’t know that was one of the aims of the show.
But more unfortunately, information about the art was not well communicated. For example, detailed information about individual artworks, usually handled via wall text, is not easily accessible. This would seem to be the natural result of the way the objects in one small room were piled on top of each other on shelves while the large room was given over to video. I would have benefited from more than a laminated sheet identifying the title and artist of a work, which I could then match up to a newspaper containing the exhibition checklist to learn more about an artist. Certainly, the space is not large, but is this the best way to handle it?
The largest room is given over to a single screen with five hours of mixed videos highlighting all the different efforts tranzit has made in the region. When new content appears the original title scene and opening credits are all you have to go on–not a lot of contextualization for what seems to be a broad base of material. Obviously, five hours is more than the average visitor will spend there, and there isn’t a way to view only segments of particular interest. Assuming this isn’t intentional mystification, then unfortunately this show does not unpack the treasure trove of materials, many never seen in the United States. More could have been done with much less. If you have the stamina to dig for information and/or wait, or perhaps just enjoy serendipity, then the exhibition certainly contains a lot of fascinating material. I just had more hope for the spaceship.