Critics’ Picks

Lari Pittman, Capricho #7, 2015, Cel-Vinyl and lacquer spray over gessoed canvas over wood panel, 96 x 86 x 2''.

New York

Lari Pittman

Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St
530 West 21st Street
January 16–February 13

In a suite of eight paintings, Lari Pittman’s “NUEVOS CAPRICHOS” depict familiar, shadowy figures on the giving and receiving ends of a world of hurt. The show’s title comes from Francisco de Goya’s “Los Caprichos,” 1797–98, a set of etchings where the court artist laid bare his withering observations on human folly and savagery. Pittman’s homage probes the same ugly impulses and similarly uses animal/man imagery as well as interiorized dialogue, voiced here in word swirls and banners that contain verses from Emily Dickinson’s poems.

Pittman’s jam-packed orchestration of supergraphic decorative patterns and motifs seem ready to bleed out of their frames. Though we’re witness to a great deal of action and violence in these pictures, a deeper sense of dread comes from the terrors suggested beyond the works’ boundaries. Where Goya’s illustrations present humanity’s nastier urges as the root of societal ills, Pittman’s pieces reveal a labyrinthine inner state as a deeply felt response to trauma. His reactions are emotional—compassionate, even—which is a marked contrast from Goya’s more accusatory tone. In Capricho #7, 2015, a skeletal crowned figure holding a plumed rod, perhaps a scepter or an axe, stomps and dances on a prostrate man’s bony back. The carefully placed words absence and disembodies shift the focus from blame to affect, captioning the internal condition and finality of both aggressor and victim. The prevalence of the word pain in these works makes one throw up a psychic shield, as it’s apparent that you, the watcher, are being pummeled. A walk around the room allows for a recalibration to a higher frequency: With each numbered capricho building on the last, this unified assembly of paintings offers a free fall into a hyperkinetic morass where each blow is felt and remembered.