Critics’ Picks

Caitlin Keogh, Renaissance Painting, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 63''.

Caitlin Keogh, Renaissance Painting, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 63''.

New York

Caitlin Keogh

Bortolami Gallery
520 West 20th Street
September 8–October 29, 2016

Caitlin Keogh’s current show, “Loose Ankles,” an antique term for a ligament injury exacerbated by high heels—and the title of a 1930 precode romcom—destabilizes conventional female constructs with demure criticism. Keogh, a sure-footed painter, renders mechanomorphic ladies into easy-on-the-eyes pictographs, though their innards are often exteriorized, severed. For Interiors (all works 2016), an invisible, tasseled sash slices delectably through a beheaded mannequin. We also have the distinct pleasure of eyeing a vacant suit of armor modeling female hormonal glands in Renaissance Painting. A looping intestine, or a snake, penetrates another headless torso in Correspondences. Disturbingly diagrammatic, alluringly mannered, and tantalizingly inhuman—Keogh’s femme fatales are, to quote a fellow viewer, “so wrong, but so right.”

These cheeky but twisted representations (part death drive, part sexual attraction) have increased in art-historical specificity, too: Ad Reinhardt’s sepulchral blue sneaks into the background of Wuthering Nephron; P&D permeates everything; and agreeable pastels restrained by precise lines, with notes of Warhol, John Wesley, and de Chirico, traffic in a darker subplot. The “Dior Fragments” series, on mirrors and glass, features excerpts from the fashion mogul’s autobiography. The paintings, however, are the more convincing mirrors, refracting disfigured selves across pools of warped allusions.

An ambivalence toward art history as “lifestyle” fodder is a source of rich, generative texture in this perverse pageant, and the exhibition seems to subtly indict the art world for synchronizing itself with fashion’s clock. Attention can waver, but Keogh exposes something steadfast lurking in all her tender arabesques and deliberately polished surfaces.