WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE ART WORLD THIS FEBRUARY
On view at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through February 19th is a survey of Iranian-American artist Tala Madani’s paintings and animations. Biscuits, the seemingly arbitrary exhibition title, embodies the playful and absurdist quality with which Madani addresses topics of cultural and sexual identity in her work. Madani’s figurative paintings often depict naked middle-aged men in a range of satirically libidinal homosocial activities. Examples include prayer gatherings twisted into gay orgies; or hyper-masculine, tattooed men grooming each others’ body hair. While her subjects are often pathetic and cringe-worthy, she renders them in soft, empathetic pastel palettes, and comical line drawing, invoking a childlike innocence. The juxtaposition of Madani’s cartoonish aesthetic with the absurd socio-cultural dynamics present yields powerfully transgressive images that deconstruct the pillars of patriarchal society with humor, curiosity, fantasy and disgust.
The exhibition brings together fifteen years of Madani’s paintings and animations. While mostly known for her figurative painting, Madani’s animations are just as impactful. In one animated short, The Womb (2019), a fetus uses a handgun to blast open the womb of its mother, after watching a highlight reel of world history. Or, in Babyocracy I (2021), congressmen frantically escape the halls of Congress while a naked baby crawls on the dais. Madani studied political science in her undergraduate education and, through her work, is building on a tradition of political cartoons. However, she subverts the historical form through her dark humor, and female gaze. In the artist’s own words, “…satire has not been female-driven … I do think that it would be different if I were a man painting this way.”
When Genieve Figgis was first discovered by Richard Prince via Twitter in 2014, the Irish artist was catapulted into the New York art scene. Figgis first debuted at Harpers Brooks in East Hampton and since then, the artist has shown 6 solo exhibitions with blue chip gallerist, Almine Rech. This January will mark the artist’s seventh show with the gallery. Despite her quick rise in commercial art world stardom - which can often compromise a great painter’s stylistic evolution - Figgis has stayed true to her vision. Inspired by styles of eras past - i.e. Rococo, Baroque and Romanticism - Figgis subverts images of bourgeois society with a distinct filter that is rich in color, texture, humor and the macabre.
Like the historical works of Old Masters such as Goya and Velazquez, Figgis’ work typically features opulent interiors, idyllic landscapes, and figures clad in victorian gowns and fine jewelry. However, she pokes fun at her subjects, influences and (generally) the upper class, by transforming classic images of hedonism into something that is grotesque. The color palette, distinct to Figgis’ work, has the vibe of a shrooms trip gone bad, and using a technique of wet-on-wet acrylic paints, her subjects often melt into their surroundings. Her ghoulish portraits of high society present themselves as a spectacle of humor and of horror. However, through her work, she’s not just satirizing the absurdity of art history bur rather rewriting it: “In the Rococo-style paintings, I wanted to recreate the pre-revolutionary world.”
On view at Matthew Marks gallery at 522 West 22nd Street is Xinyi Cheng’s first solo exhibition in the United States. The show includes 16 works created over the past two years, whose subjects include friends, lovers, pets, domestic interiors, and the outdoors. In Cheng's words, “My paintings are about different aspects of desire and human relationships. I paint situations that are based on my memories or imagination.” Between the unexpected color choices, the voyeuristic way in which Cheng depicts her subjects’ expressions and emotions, or her attention to form - there’s an eerily emotive quality ever-present in the work. Furthermore, the bodies in Cheng’s paintings are typically placed on undefined, single-color backgrounds, giving a dreamlike feel. What connects the subjects is an interaction - divorced from any scene or landscape - creating an unusually intimate dynamic, that is at once straightforward yet profound. It should not come as a surprise that the subjects and scenes captured in Cheng’s work are drawn from her encounters. There’s a life and soul to her portraits that is indescribably tangible.
What I find most striking about Cheng’s work is the way that she uses light and color to guide the viewer’s eye. The compositions are quiet, and the palettes are somewhat muted, but the way in which color and light is deployed gives these works an incredible volume. In Sting in the Red Bonnet (2020), a blue body gazing into the distance is wearing a red hat and reclining against a washed out, rusty backdrop. The conversation between the colors - and in this piece specifically, the varying temperatures of the colors - gives us an insight into the subjects psychology. There’s also a hint of tribute to Picasso in the blue. However in this painting, and across Cheng’s work, what’s left unsaid is what draws us into her world.
Last chance! If you’re in London before January 21st, we suggest that you stop by Victoria Miro to check out Miami based artist, Hernan Bas’s show The Conceptualists. Bas openly cites French decadence - a 19th century style of painting and literature - as an inspiration for his work. The connection is clear - his paintings exude an aura of aesthetic hedonism and are fraught with codes and double entendres, typical of the artistic style. However, what’s so captivating about the artist’s work is the way in which he reinterprets his old-word influences in a contemporary context. From the queer vocabulary encoded in his work - as portrayed through his subjects (most often androgynous young men) - to pop cultural references from Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice or kids’ TV show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Bas is dialoguing with the art historical canon as much as he is with the cultural zeitgeist.
In this collection of works, Bas’s subjects are engaged in a range of obsessive and odd activities - or conceptual performance pieces? Each painting is self-consciously enumerated as “Conceptual Artist #” and described in the title. For example, in Conceptual Artist #9 (Performance based, his work is tied to the binds of gravity), the protagonist stands behind a row of handmade toy rockets, each with a string that connects to his body. Or in Conceptual Artist #3 (Chewing gum every waking hour of the day, he considers ‘Bubblegum Alley’ his archive), we meet an artist who chews gum then sticks it to the walls of an alley. The result looks like an abstract expressionist painting. Bas imbues his subjects with life through story building, incredible detail, and countless references to art and pop culture history.