Critics’ Picks

View of “Berlinde De Bruyckere,” 2016.

New York

Berlinde De Bruyckere

Hauser & Wirth | West 18th Street
511 West 18th Street
January 28–April 2, 2016

Berlinde De Bruyckere is an artist whose work has made me cry in public. It’s remarkable when art makes you cry, unlike when you cry at a movie or listening to music, since hot tears are fine in the dark, yet unerotic and, at best, often disgusting in a white space. De Bruyckere is a master manipulator who doesn’t care how you feel. There is no other explanation for the horses she shows dead and hog-tied, one at a time or three together, piled in a mahogany armoire like the victims of a massacre.

Before you get to the great roan bodies in “No Life Lost,” you have to encounter them flayed out and drawn in pencil and tremulous watercolors—cloud black, dirty sunset pink—as if to resemble vaginas. The relationship between human and horse is the only one in nature that rivals that of a man and a woman for sheer struggling power and the mortal frustration that results. A horse, after all, must be broken. As a child, the painter Francis Bacon, a perennial analogue for De Bruyckere’s more cruciformal tendencies, was whipped by his father’s grooms the same way they whipped his father’s racehorses. His father was likely afraid of the young boy’s grace.

I can’t say whether it is crueler to treat a human like a horse or a horse like a human, as De Bruyckere does. I can say that the show’s final work, Kreupelhout – Cripplewood, 2012–13, a giant red elm meant to embody both the old woman in J. M. Coetzee’s story “The Old Woman and the Cats” and the forever-young martyr Saint Sebastian, is a resting place, generative after excess decay. Think of the coffins that could be made from it, the armoires, the plinths, and the pyres. Think of the bedframes. We live to burn another day and one day not to suffer, or be sorry, at all.