Critics’ Picks

View of “Carroll Dunham,” 2012–13.

New York

Carroll Dunham

Gladstone Gallery | West 24th St
515 West 24th Street
November 29–January 19

Carroll Dunham, master of the solid form, man of the (mostly) closed edge, presents a new suite of nudes, and some trees. Brazen as ever, the scopophilic––verging on misogynistic––treatment of the subject matter belies Dunham’s technical proficiency: The afterimage of these trunk-legged, facing-away deities lodges in the mind long after the viewer has turned her back.

Next Bathers, five (dive), 2012, features the backside of a nude, diving, sliding, along a sumptuous linen canvas into open-edged water, beneath a burning football of a sun. Sex pervades this painting: Everything from the testicle-shaped labia of the bather’s nether parts, thrust at the viewer at an anatomically impossible angle, to her top hat–hard areola connotes the casual brutality of a woman being eye-fucked to death. How hard must our gaze be to slice through this towering solidity? How hardened?

Late Trees #7, 2012, further freed from representational restraint, is a solid monster—green, many-limbed, and fuzzy, punctuated by undefined wooden protrusions. With its branches erect, its leafy mound cloyingly solid, it at first rejects all interpretation beyond monster-truck awe. To move past the bombastic resistance it puts forth, however, is well worthwhile, as what lies beneath is a quieter energy, palpably insidious: the gnawing sensation of impending death and decay. Each royal purple flower, each impressively solid leaf, would have the viewer believe in its permanence; yet that overconfidence––of seemingly halting nature herself––only serves to highlight a fear of transience and endings. No shadow to tell the time of day, no implied season of the year, no way to place this tree geographically: This painting stops short of a happy ending, in the hope, perhaps, that we will linger with its timeless fantasy, staving off our fate for a little while.