Critics’ Picks

Colette, Love in Ruins, 1987–90, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Colette, Love in Ruins, 1987–90, mixed media, dimensions variable.

New York


Mitchell Algus Gallery
132 Delancey St 2nd floor
September 12–October 15, 2017

In 1977, the shape-shifting artist who goes by Colette—or Colette Lumière since 2001—staged herself in Olympia-like repose at the center of an unwieldy installation in lavender satin and silk titled Let Them Eat Cake (Marie Antoinette au Petit Trianon). It was the same year Douglas Crimp’s exhibition “Pictures” identified the coolly conceptual vocabulary of artists who came of age in early 1970s New York, Colette’s adopted part-time home. Fashioning a decidedly more florid vision on the downtown scene, she remained an outlier for nomadic work produced under different personae and pseudonyms across performance, staged photographs, and lurid objects/environments.

Amid disenchantment with public institutions of the post-1960s era, the dark comedy of Colette’s absurdist theatricality and material excess seemed to give Antoinette’s alleged words and the artist’s work an ironically subtle resonance. Today, we have a convincing new Marie Antoinette at the helm, and the Baroque echo eerily repeats. In Colette’s current exhibition here, charged valences not just of femininity (for which she is best known), but also of privilege and its delusions, unravel in facsimiles of class and royalty for the masses. Love in Ruins, 1987–90, for instance, is attributed to Countess Reichenbach and features a large faded photograph of Colette posed lewdly as the titular character. Framed by swathes of ragged tulle, the portrait projects a fantasy of nobility while its luxe trappings become the floor remnants of a riotous night out. In Beautiful Dreamer (Décapité), 1981–2017, she decollates a life-size cutout of herself and hangs an ornate wall sconce above the body. The constellation of seemingly discrete assemblages retains a gratifyingly hot-mess scrappiness. Marrying deadpan criticality to the hyperbolic, the artist circumvents the nightmarish fate of “immersive art” and conjures a hauntingly perverse self-mythology of aristocratic grandeur.