Chinese artist Chu Yun’s sleeping beauties may be the most buzzed-about piece in the New Museum much-hyped “Younger Than Jesus” triennial, but Daniel Keller and Nik Kosmas’s OMG Obelisk is the hottest. It features a tall, nondescript black column exclaiming OMG in blue lights, to almost deadpan effect. On either side of the column, steel pipes comprise torches of sorts, with small flames burning at the top, filling the room with a pleasant, campfirey smell.
Mr. Keller, 22, and Mr. Kosmas, 23, are the youngest and third-youngest artists, respectively, in the exhibit. “A lot of these people are 10 years older than us,” Mr. Kosmas told The Observer during a recent visit to the show. He was tall and thin in black cargo vest, black pants and purple Doc Marten boots; Mr. Keller was wearing a knit hat and workmanlike clothes he said he’d bought at a thrift store.
The two men form the two halves of an art collective called AIDS-3D. “It’s potentially loaded but also potentially meaningless,” said Mr. Kosmas of the name. “It’s a marketing thing.” Both have parents in advertising. (Mr. Keller grew up in the Detroit suburbs, Mr. Kosmas in Minneapolis; they met at the Art Institute of Chicago and now live in Berlin.) “I told my mom we were thinking of changing our name and she said, ‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea,’” Mr. Kosmas continued. “‘It’s very catchy, and it puts you first in the alphabetical list.’”
“To me it’s more a historical disease than a current risk,” added Mr. Keller. “People ask if we know anyone with AIDS, and the answer is ‘No, we don’t.’ The idea is sort of like, problem solved with spectacular technology! Or not solved.”
Fittingly, OMG Obelisk was built by the New Museum before the artists even arrived in New York, from .gif files which captured a fleeting 2007 installation involving Styrofoam, bamboo, duct tape and firestarter. The work is now durable medium-density fibreboard (MDF) fortified for the artistic big leagues, so to speak.
The museum’s curatorial materials assert that the young artists “flippantly engage with the unmet promises of the 20th century.”
“That’s, I think, a really good sentence for us,” said Mr. Kosmas, who described the work as “a monument to something that’s kind of banal…a sensationalization of something trite…”
“We want to care, we want to be really earnest,” he continued. But when you’re too earnest it’s too easy for people to … kind of dismiss you. Being ironic is a way to be genuine. You know what I mean? We grew up in the ’90s and people were like, save the rainforests and world love and all this possibility. And then we got Bush instead.”
Still, Messrs. Keller and Kosmas sense a hopeful shift under way in the art world. For one, they and others of their ilk do not advocate art as intellectual masturbation. “It’s good to go beyond the surface and also find meaning, but if you don’t see anything in the surface, it turns people off,” said Mr. Kosmas.
In their week or so in New York, they had sampled the New York art scene, which they found to be all about “flash and surface.” They met gallerist Mary Boone (“like, a character from Basquiat”) at the Jesus opening, not to mention glamorous former Prada VP of public relations Melissa Skoog and socialite and Whitney Contemporaries founder Lisa Anastos. One night, they’d even ended up at an after-party at hotshot artist’s Terence Koh’s house. “We’re on a ‘Hey, what’s up dude?’ basis, but that’s it,” said Mr. Keller (who had attended the opening, to his mild embarrassment, with “a whole crew of Jewish middle-aged people,” i.e., his parents and aunts and uncles).
In Berlin “People don’t like to work and they don’t like to shop, so everything is super-cheap,” Mr. Keller said. But here? “Everyone’s judging and looking,” Mr. Kosmas said.