Critics’ Picks

Tobias Pils, Untitled (Viennese Head), 2016, mixed media on canvas, 33 1/2 x 27 1/2".

Tobias Pils, Untitled (Viennese Head), 2016, mixed media on canvas, 33 1/2 x 27 1/2".

New York

Tobias Pils

Eva Presenhuber | New York
39 Great Jones Street
May 6–June 17, 2017

Tobias Pils’s monochromatic exhibition here opens with Untitled (Viennese Head), 2016, a black-and-white canvas featuring the profile of a deformed human head with a huge black void for a cheek. The eyes, however, gaze directly at you—they peer through a field of swaying lines that could be melting lashes, or even seaweed. It appears to be kissing a tangle of zigzags, some of which have edges that bleed delicately, as if they were rendered by an inky pen dragged down a sheet of wet paper.

To call the artist’s paintings surrealist seems a bit limiting—they play quite liberally with a kind of mushy cubism, too. Untitled (Arrow), 2016, shows a figure made from thick slabs of white paint, suicidally aiming a hard-edge white triangle with soft fletching toward its chest. Is this picture disturbing? Funny? Elegant? Cruel? Pils’s images ignite a variety of queasy sensations that are difficult to pin down. But we can access them nonetheless—deeply, intuitively.

It’s worthwhile to read this show as an immersive dream journal overflowing with id. In Untitled (Autumn 1), 2015, a bath-brush-like object grows out of a baggy gray creature that might be getting sodomized by a V-shaped demon. And whatever’s happening to the juicy, jittering blobs in Untitled (Flowers), 2016, looks just as fulsome, kinky. The artist’s deft brushstrokes and rich tableaux activate all manner of sweet, libidinal pleasure.