Gallery  May 10, 2023  Barbara A. MacAdam

'Rear View': A Surprisingly Thoughtful Show on a Seemingly Humorous Subject

Courtesy LGDR, © Urs Fischer. Photo: Kunstgiesserei St. Gallen

LGDR, Rear View Installation Image of Urs Fischer, Divine Interventions, 2023 © Urs Fischer. Photo: Kunstgiesserei St. Gallen

What could be more charming and ridiculous than a show that situates itself at the intersection between opulence and buttocks? This inventive gathering pulls together unlikely paintings, sculptures, and even video to intermingle and invite visual and verbal puns. “Rear View,” despite its overtly humorous side, is a serious and thoughtful show that triggers a range of associations among works produced predominantly in the 20th and 21st centuries. The four gallerists that merged to produce this show of some 60 pieces include veteran dealers Dominique Lévy, Bret Gorvy, Amalia Dayan, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohayton. The result is a conversation based on their different approaches and perspectives. 

At the entrance to the lavish Beaux Arts building that once housed the former Wildenstein Gallery on East 64th Street, visitors are greeted by three regal wax women (the mythical graces, riffing on their marble Hellenic predecessors) accompanied by another woman (an effigy of the collector Pauline Karpidas, not idealized). Titled Divine Interventions (2023), the candle (wick included) was created for the show by Swiss artist Urs Fischer and burns as the show progresses. It’s a fine conversation starter, linking the substantial and the ephemeral.

Courtesy Fernando Botero

Fernando Botero The Bathroom 1989 Oil on canvas 

 

The next two floors are disarming not only because they reveal so many barebacks and backsides but also because they show how we should be looking seriously at works we might normally dismiss, or disdain. One such work is Fernando Botero’s parodic painting The Bathroom which features a massive woman regarding herself in a mirror surrounded by a toilet, sink, and tub in all their architectural solidity. The interior’s curves echo hers, while a slice of her reflection to the right shows her slyly capturing us spying.

Meanwhile, ingeniously confounding our view of this formidable figure is the placement of Aristide Maillol’s 1911 black bronze sculpture standing in front of the Botero. This sculpture is of a shapely woman who dominates our gaze and all the space around her. She offers a contrasting architecture to Botero’s caryatid, one that makes you want to apologize for blocking her gaze each time you pass in front of her. To her left is a flat black figure in a painting by Barclay L. Hendricks, providing an example of negative space as the image seems to dissolve into the canvas. On the opposite wall is a dimpled conception of modernism in Félix Valloton’s Étude de fesses, (buttocks) ca. 1884—realistically highlighting the model’s stretched and discolored flesh. 

Courtesy the Estate of Harry Callahan and Pace Gallery

Harry Callahan Eleanor conceived c. 1948 / printed c. 1970s Gelatin silver print, Signed recto in pencil; titled and dated verso in pencil 

 

Recalling Caspar David Friedrich’s attraction to Rückenfigur --that is, a figure seen from the back—the works here encourage us to follow many lines of thought and vision. We look ahead with them, overseas, as in Anselm Kiefer’s six photos titled “Besetzungen” (Occupations, 1969/2022). Here, Kiefer’s subjects perform the Nazi salute, and nearby, while touchingly motivated, Harry Callahan captures his wife, Eleanor, cinematically peering out over a wall (1949/ca. 1970s). Also in the gallery is a photo by Carrie Mae Weems, In the Mountains of Santiago de Cuba (2002), where a lone woman gazes longingly over mountains. 

 The built world emerges in Jenny Saville’s prodigious painting Juncture (1994), positioned precariously on the stairwell, securing its position and challenging us to examine the figure’s massive back and consider the nature of two-dimensional weight and our perception of it. We are then lured into structural engagement with Yoko Ono’s Film No. 4 (Bottoms 1966–67), a series of segmented multicultural asses, whose rippled quadrants are reminiscent of the late photographer John Copland’s closeups of his body parts. He claimed that by always leaving off the head, he removed references to his current identity and became immersed in the past.

© 1967 Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono Film No. 4 (Bottoms) v2 1966–67 16mm film (black and white, mono sound), 78 min 51 sec Dur: 78’51” by Yoko Ono Dir: Yoko Ono Soundtrack by Yoko Ono and participants

What is most intriguing about this show is the rare glimpses it offers into time’s rear view—what we lose and how we encircle the present and past to weave new realities. The art here is less about materials and more about memory, what we don’t know, and the power of suggestion.

About the Author

Barbara A. MacAdam

Barbara A. MacAdam is a New York-based freelance editor and writer, who worked at ARTnews for many years as well as for Art and Auction, New York Magazine, Review Magazine, and Latin American Literature and Arts. She currently reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail.

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