“Other Primary Structures” at The Jewish Museum can be seen as a nod to the institution’s past. The museum staged a major exhibit of minimalist sculpture called “Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors” in 1966.
This latest exhibit showcases minimalist sculpture from Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe from the 1960s. Deputy Director Jens Hoffmann, who curated “Other Primary Structures,” is very interested in the history of exhibitions and in the museum’s own avant garde and experimental history. A sequel exhibit will feature art from 1967-1970, some of which was inspired by “Primary Structures.”
To show continuity, Hoffmann juxtaposes installation shots from the original exhibit drawn from the museum’s archives with the artworks in the current show. The final room features a ten-foot-tall dollhouse-like model of the museum itself with miniature versions of the now classic minimalist artwork in situ.
“Other Primary Structures” features works that ostensibly could have been presented in the 1966 show had its curator, Kynaston McShine, had a perspective as globally focused as Hoffmann’s.
The “Other” in the title describes the fact that more art is shown in this exhibit. It also evokes the foreign backgrounds of these artists who are indeed less known. This “otherness” can relate to Jews as well, both in the art world as well as mainstream society.
Hoffmann seeks to pay tribute to global artists whose work hasn’t been as acknowledged in the US and he does so in style, dedicating all of the second floor gallery space to their geometric forms. He hired British exhibition designers and not only published a sleek catalogue, but republished the original exhibition catalogue to go along with it. “Other Primary Structures,” Hoffmann writes in the catalogue, “signals a dedication by The Jewish Museum to exploring and presenting the work of artists from all over the world.”
However, “Other Primary Structures” can also be understood as a knock to the museum’s core base of attendees who will likely have trouble connecting with the art presented. With this exhibit, the museum seems to be continuing its experiment in trying to diversify its visitors, leaving little of what its tried and true current fans expect and rely on the museum to provide.
The first part of “Other Primary Structures” is on view at The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue (92nd Street) through May 18th. “Others 2” is on view from May 25th to August 3rd.
Caroline Lagnado is an arts writer in New York