Critics’ Picks

Anna Conway, Potential, 2015, oil on canvas, 52 x 80".

Anna Conway, Potential, 2015, oil on canvas, 52 x 80".

New York

Anna Conway

Fergus McCaffrey | New York
514 West 26th Street
November 1–December 23, 2017

In contemporary usage, ideas of luxury and aspiration tend to draw upon the same visual vocabulary. Architecturally speaking, this means the cool, clean lines of midtown modernism, accentuated by an expensive-looking emptiness. After all, true luxury implies exclusivity. For it to matter most, it must be yours, and yours alone.

Anna Conway attends to the slippages between the haves and have-nots with this able-bodied fleet of eight oil paintings. The images immerse viewers in the sleek surrealism of ad-ready landscapes, poured-concrete playgrounds for upmarket sedans or the kind of Arco-lit interiors where a handsome young man might present his exotic brunette—in this context, a blonde feels too cheap—with the little box that lets her know she’s “worth it.” The paintings’ titles tend to tout the formless virtues peddled on motivational posters: Determination, Devotion, Perseverance or, perhaps the most pliable, Potential (all 2015). The painter’s pristine execution echoes the would-be flawlessness of her settings, save for the soft intrusions, the orange extension cords, and pre-Keurig coffee pots that signal someone else’s presence. Figures themselves are rare and always seemingly accidental. For example, in Haniwa, 2017—named for the Japanese ritual mask propped on a pedestal in a vast, gallerylike space—the janitor stands rigidly fixed in the shadows, his floor polisher giving him away.

This preoccupation with questions of display reflects in Conway’s treatment of collected items (tabletop antiquities, di Suveroesque lawn sculptures, or even the taxidermied rhinoceros, rearing in the dark of a glass-roofed courtyard). The importance of these objects is that they can be owned, even as Conway’s larger composition glides just beyond the viewer’s grasp.