Critics’ Picks

Emma McMillan, GROTESQUE WOMAN CARYATID, 2018, oil and acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 24".

Emma McMillan, GROTESQUE WOMAN CARYATID, 2018, oil and acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 24".

New York

Emma McMillan

134 Bowery 4S
March 4–April 1, 2018

When Donald J. Trump bought the Bonwit Teller building in 1979, the young developer promised that the Art Deco friezes adorning the department store would live out their days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He, of course, lied. Jackhammers turned the limestone nudes to dust for the sake of expediency. In their place, he erected Trump Tower, a landmark now synonymous with nouveau-riche baroque. A case of radical erasure and accelerated repetition, Trump’s black-mirror castle calls authorship into question as it relates to the intermingling of art and history.

Emma McMillan’s new paintings and drawings respond to the Bonwit Teller story directly and indirectly. Chasing the lithe thigh dancers from the original facade, the artist sketches a new timeline. The images, mostly characters and geometric patterns recovered from the exterior, appropriated or imagined, live stacked on top of one another, creating a palimpsest of curves and gestures. Her painting GROTESQUE WOMAN CARYATID, 2018, for example, depicts a seated woman beneath a doorway design from Manhattan’s Chanin Building. She slips in and out of the present.

The relationship between these layers, surface and underpainting, is contentious. McMillan’s scratchy facture is scar-like. Her surgical aesthetic brings out the corporeal qualities of paint and the mechanical aspects of the body. Her palette, which pits bright poppy against dark purple and acid green, electrifies. Unlike the walls of Trump Tower, where glass shields the public from opulent interiors and mercenary tactics, McMillan’s world is one in which the past and present are utterly transparent—brutally so. The artist folds time over itself, and the results are romantic, biting.