Critics’ Picks

View of “Ben Wolf Noam: Leap Year,” 2018.

Los Angeles

Ben Wolf Noam

204 S Avenue 19
January 19–February 28, 2018

You know things are bad when a young painter like Ben Wolf Noam, used to winding patterns and cheerful gradients, turns to the sooty textures of charcoal on cardboard. Call it the new Neue Sachlichkeit—a certain polemical caricaturizing that, like a market crash or the flu, tends to come back around. The opulent desperation Noam depicts across forty panels, hung two rows high, presents the last thirteen months of the American experience as a wide-angled, roughly cubist mania. Here, contorted figures dance, upside down, above a Mesoamerican pyramid, serpent gods, and a slapdash glass-and-steel skyline (Lets Fukin Party, 2017); there, the little Monopoly man grins beside a gravestone marked “TECH BROS” (Cult of the Entrepreneur, 2017). Elsewhere, bees die, cities gentrify; memes blur into porn; a knife draws blood from a woman’s pregnant belly.

Several portraits provide calmer, more personal passages. The cigar-toking Grandpa Wolf, 2018, gazes frame left out of a startling geometric shirt; Grandma Lotte, 2017, grips a blank area of the drawing’s composition. But the medium’s powdery nostalgia keeps lurching back to topical twenty-seventeen—another portrait, a flattened nude called Woman Reading (Ferrante), 2017, nods to current debates over an author’s right to privacy, while A Weinstein Picture, 2017, sends the disgraced producer’s company logo into a boxy void.

The show is titled “Leap Year.” 2018 isn’t one, but it does happen to be the centennial of the Weimar Republic’s founding—and here again is an internecine aesthetic wherein the artist, roughly condemning the age, takes pleasure in his own pastiche. Neue Sachlichkeit? Gesundheit.