The New Museum’s ‘Free’ a New Direction?

Information wants to be free. And the Free exhibit wants to stake a claim. The individual artworks in the New Museum’s show are mildly diverting. More importantly, the show’s theme allows the museum to assert itself as the champion of some sort of movement.

The New Museum, whose programming was described by New York magazine’s Jerry Saltz as “uneven and occasionally annoying,” needs an identity, a problem with which the museum has struggled since its move to the Bowery in 2007. Free is a strong campaign for a direction the museum could take.

With Free, the New Museum takes a decisive stance, upholding the Creative Commons and validating appropriation.

The artworks in the exhibit were obtained or generated online. One artist asks Yahoo! Answers readers to define love. Another displays online photos of confiscated collections of contraband—insane wads of cash, stacks of marijuana, and arsenals of automatic weapons, among others.

The exhibit does more than support free information sharing. In unpacking an unexamined ubiquitous daily practice—surfing the web—it forges a roadmap for the museum. Just as Judson Church did for avant-garde dance and theater and MoMA for Pop art, the New Museum could begin asserting itself as the institution of artists who mine the link-clicking culture. But if they don’t follow up with another more substantial exhibit on the web, they may just prove Saltz right.

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