Stepping into “In Transit,” the current exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, visitors are made to feel that they have committed some thoughtless transgression.1 The floor of the gallery’s entryway has been laid with linoleum upon which has been printed, in serial, computer-generated form, a silhouetted pattern of starving black babies, evoking at once a statistical read-out and a television plea for African relief.

Looking up as we traverse this grim imagery, we are offered the second bit of visual information. No, we are not in Africa, after all, but in our own backyard, or, more precisely, in one of our dying American cities. The figures over which we have been invited to stroll lead to a cab-yellow billboard depicting a jogger on a morning run. Though he appears only in stark...


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