Daniel Lie
Unnamed Entities

Giovanni Aloi
New Museum, New York
17 February — 5 June 2022
Daniel Lie Unnamed Entities, exhibition view, 2022.
Photo : Dario Lasagni, courtesy of New Museum, New York
New Museum, New York
17 February — 5 June 2022
Despite its theoretical complexity, along with the resilient anthropocentrism that pervades art history, new materialism has had a major impact on contemporary art. Once considered inert, art materials are today charged with agency. The radical shifts that have occurred in the relationships between artists and materials are glaringly visible at the New Museum in New York, which has bravely put on show a wholly organic installation by Portuguese artist Daniel Lie.

Whereas during the 1960s and 1970s unconventional art materials infiltrated the gallery space to subvert the rational purity of the white cube, today soil, living plants, and mould become involved in a subtler, organic dialogue with the artist and with the site in which their encounter unfolds. Lie’s exhibition Unnamed Entities is a quintessential manifestation of this conceptual turning point. The installation, a new commission created specifically for the museum’s lobby gallery, brings together traditional terracotta ceramic vases, jute and hemp fabric, natural fibre ropes, straw and hay bales, mud with spores and seeds, and thousands of cut flowers. Flying in the face of the classical conventions that still implicitly dominate the aesthetics of what we see in museums, Lie stages multi-­material becomings that are impossible to preserve and collect. As time unfolds, each entity is transformed; some wilt and decay as others germinate and bloom, forming new entities along the way. Through its title, the exhibition nurtures a desire to disown the ordering systems of natural history and, with them, the Aristotelian hierarchization of the living that still informs our value systems today. The practice of unnaming, one that in this gallery space is performed by the agency of materiality rather than the artist’s anthropocentric privilege, in essence, is a process of unlearning. As we let materials undo meaning, we begin to see afresh beneath the cultural stratifications that often occlude our experience of reality with pre-encoded concepts that have been naturalized over time. 

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This article also appears in the issue 105 - New New Age

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