The juxtaposition of classic and modern imaginary
bodies, the depiction of the original and the forgotten, the depiction of the feminine body, is an echo of Duchamps famous quote: To paint a woman as a sheep in a field is to paint a man as a bull. The double and double nature of the canvas provides a textured, raked surface. In these works, the canvas itself is a ground, a canvas on which the layers of paint in various shades of yellow, white, black, brown, and green are all constantly falling together, building up. This is not the case with Shaker canvas, where the delicate, geometrically patterned surface is a playful metaphor for the female body. By presenting this painting as a sculpture, this artist pushes the viewer to think about the power of the female body and the ability of the figure to articulate the complex power dynamics of her own being.
The juxtaposition of classic and modern imaginary worlds is a recurrent theme in the works of this artist. In the series of white-on-black photographs (all Untitled, 2004) for which he is best known, we see the faces of a dozen men, each carved into a different base, in the setting of a room. The color changes, the changes of size, and the correspondences of facial features provide an ingenious rhythm in the otherwise mundane world. But these images have an unexpected luminosity, as if they were transported to a distant, ashen realm. In this series of works, often titled Doppelgänger, the grotesque continues to appear but is banished from the body. The new figures, although as human as the old ones, are made grotesque by their lack of representation. They are wholly surreal and imaginary. The landscapes they inhabit are landscapes, as in a dream, but the figures are completely lacking in their contours, and even their faces are absent. The point of the work is not so much to create a likeness between a figure and its ground, as to evoke the spirit of the original figures, in which the contours seem to be clouds of spirits. But the sensation of displacement is emphasized, and the contours seem to be some kind of phantom, a cloud, a shadow. In this exhibition, the point of the phantom was to evoke the tension between the smooth contours of the drawings and the fractures that occur in the images.The central image of the series was a headless, partially nude figure. The figure stood out from the rest of the show by virtue of the way its contour became visible and clear as the viewer approached it.
elements was also mirrored by a figure that looked like the ghost of a suitor: the otherworldly, lean-to-earthly, gaunt, and girthy-cheeked beauty of Dinky Dink (all works 2007), which looked like the apparition of the love-jacketed mourner on a skinny, girlish-woman, or the ghost of a dandy. As a sample of the female body, it was also a potent, parodic metaphor for the woman-as-in-coverage. Here, the awkward and feminine (i.e., the perfectly composed but in some cases awkwardly lanky, young, and hermetic) was juxtaposed with the perfectly articulate and masculine, masculine-looking woman. In the end, the women—the caricatured and beautiful ones—were not the least bit ambiguous, as their presence in the show was deeply immersive. The play of a fictional image with the real one was hardly a one-way street; the women were representative and individual, as individuals—the same as the city itself.In the end, the point of the show was not to argue the point of woman as subject and object, but to acknowledge that the artist as aesthetic subject—whether man or woman—must be continually reworked, and, in this way, to produce a work that, in its continued transmission, is a work of art. Given the often-promised "open-endedness and open-endedness of postfeminism, one might have thought the open-endedness of The Little Woman in Blue was a meaningful achievement. But its inclusion here made us feel that the question of woman as object and subject has not yet been solved.
figures—female, male, and unidentified, born at the same time—is at once strange and familiar, both troubling and hilarious. And while the works in the show were all created in the past three years, the exhibition also reveals that the artists most recent work has a slightly different approach to reality. Among the contemporary works on view, two pieces were particularly striking: Men, 2001, a work in which a series of black-on-black stripes, with white patches covering the entire spectrum, are placed on top of a large grid, like an airplane window, and the artist appears to be mimicking the whites on the stripes, only to destroy the illusion by adding white stripes. The other piece was a series of glass-fronted cases, one in each of four colors, of the kind one might find in a hardware store. Each case had an interior window cut in it, and in each case was hung on the wall in a flat, rectangular format that had the look of a painting. The pieces, which are small, and also the only ones in the show without handles, as in a painting, are almost perfect reflections of the mirrors in the rest of the gallery. I am convinced that the real fascination of this show was the material reality of the work, which is what sets it apart from many other contemporary artists who might be taking the same approach. It is this difference that establishes the importance of the works in this show. Even their small size seems to serve as a limitation. And it is this difference that helps us understand their success.
figures, such as those of the artist, is a revealing and moving act that only a very strong imagination can bring to light. The results of the artists imagination are far more beautiful than what they usually are, and I hope that this show will stimulate a more widespread recognition of the beauty of this imagination. The first step is to give them a place of their own. To do this, however, they need to be recognized as such, and not as reflections on them. Finally, they have to be given a place of their own. This is where Beckmanns work gets lost: on the walls, not on the pedestals.