Critics’ Picks

Dawn Mellor, Hurricane Dorothy, 2008, oil on canvas, 14' 4" x 49'.

Dawn Mellor, Hurricane Dorothy, 2008, oil on canvas, 14' 4" x 49'.


Dawn Mellor

Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst
Limmatstrasse 270
November 27, 2008–February 9, 2009

One hundred and thirty striking portraits––from Theodor Adorno to Slavoj Žižek, Barack Obama to Keira Knightley––are installed salon-style in this exhibition and collectively form “Vile Affections,” 2007–2008, by the British artist Dawn Mellor. Often employing familiar pictures of the beautiful and powerful cultural elite in her work, Mellor drastically modifies such imagery through severed body parts, ghastly faces, and protruding innards. Mellor deconstructs the hierarchical relationship between celebrities and fans, as well as myths and stereotypes associated with such luminaries, in a manner both bitter and humorous. On seeing the artist’s attacks on the conventions of decency, viewers might be unable to suppress their laughter, an act that recalls Horace’s description of the grotesque.

One gallery in the show is devoted to Mellor’s “Dorothy Cycle,” a series that explores a cinematic theme the artist has developed since 2006. The romantic couple of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Regan from The Exorcist (1973) are presented against backgrounds of apocalyptic landscapes in several large paintings. The nearly fifty-foot-long mural Hurricane Dorothy, 2008, depicts the girls wearing gingham skirts and kneeling opposite each other. Halos rendered above their heads include Polari phrases (once popular in gay and lesbian circles in England in the 1950s), as well as poetic declarations of love. Mellor exploits the diverse reception of both films by turning the characters into lesbians, fundamentalists, and demons. But through this self-empowering transformation, different social hostilities are denounced.

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.