Critics’ Picks

Passage, 2005, gouache on paper, 30 x 22".

Passage, 2005, gouache on paper, 30 x 22".

New York

Amy Cutler

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
401 Broadway Suite 411
March 15–April 18, 2007

With a predilection for gravity-defying structures made delicate by Amy Cutler’s use of thin, wobbly lines, the thirteen graceful gouaches in this exhibition compound the artist’s previous imagery—women with deer limbs; upside-down tree houses—to reveal a central interest: structures of support that undergird the mundane yet chimerical rituals she has imagined for her paintings’ female subjects. In Siberian Jackfruit, 2007, a woman on a scaffold picks fruit from trees with the aid of a rustic, jury-rigged mechanical arm, while her companions, seated on harnessed reindeer, look on. When women ride an elephant that in turn balances upon stiltlike tree branches in Passage, 2005, Cutler’s support systems acquire the physical impossibilities of magic realism. Likewise, in Elephant Ferries, 2007, the support becomes emotional in nature when despairing women comfort one another while clinging to the backs of elephants half-submerged in water. Unlike our world, where iPods and therapy groups conform with ease to their human users, Cutler’s world is bucolic and backward, its supporting contraptions as precarious as those found in folk myths from Baba Yaga’s hut to Icarus’s wings. While we commute, bar-hop, jog, and tan, Cutler’s characters teeter, squat, herd, and lug—they’re menaced by weight, a threat made visceral by the artist’s mix of fine lines and voluminously ominous forms.

As when encountering other work from the recent flowering of fable-inspired artists and musicians—Marcel Dzama, Sufjan Stevens, Deerhoof—one may be tempted to seek telltale signs of a sophisticate adopting the innocent’s pose. Cutler obliges, serving up one such clue with a wink. In several gouaches, the artist reserves expanses of white page where a Scholastic editor might scrawl TEXT HERE. In these compositional allusions to the children’s-book genre, Cutler, unlike our notional outsider artists, seems to admit an awareness that even highly personal imaginings profit from circulation.