Critics’ Picks

Orange Lily, 2008, oil on board, 10' 3/16“ x 5' 1/4”.


Chantal Joffe

Victoria Miro Gallery | 16 Wharf Road
16 Wharf Road
June 24–August 2

Ballet dancers possess exceptional physical qualities, but Edgar Degas painted them prepping backstage at the Royal Ballet as pretty teenagers with morals as flexible as their limbs. Today’s models also embody phenomenal physical attributes, and most are similarly immature and vulnerable to exploitation. Chantal Joffe explores this contrast between models’ worldly appearance and skittish reality in a series of small-scale paintings. Inspired by Degas’s dancers, Joffe took snapshots of models changing, exiting the catwalk, and gearing up for the runway while observing them backstage at three consecutive Chloé seasons in Paris. She then reproduced the images in her signature expressionist style.

Exhibited in Victoria Miro’s smaller exhibition space, near the gallery’s entrance, this cluster of twenty-two oil paintings on canvas, board, or cardboard is arranged like the scattershot collages of Polaroids, magazine spreads, and sketches that designers often display backstage to inspire their models and makeup artists. Here, however, the paintings’ delicate size and intimate configuration work in contrast to Joffe's nearly ten-foot-tall canvases hanging in the main exhibition area. Among these six paintings is Orange Lily, 2008, a portrait of a young woman who exudes an adolescent self-consciousness similar to many of the models in the “Backstage” series. The monumental size of Orange Lily turns its subject into a complex and compelling character. But the scale of Joffe’s backstage images, each of them roughly the same size as a magazine page, suggests that while these lovely girls might be role models to other teenagers, to the fashion industry all but a few of them are interchangeable.