Critics’ Picks

Ilse Henin, Untitled (9), 2018/19, oil pastel chalk on paper, 39 x 27".

Ilse Henin, Untitled (9), 2018/19, oil pastel chalk on paper, 39 x 27".


Ilse Henin

Mehringplatz 8
March 9–May 18, 2019

In West Germany, the late 1960s were a notoriously vibrant time of political and social unrest, artistic solidarity, and experimentation, often combined with anti-capitalist critiques. For Ilse Henin, a student in those years, it was a formative period. Trained as a painter, she would go on to dedicate her life and art to global political engagement. “Chile Mappe” (Chile Folder), 1974, for instance, is an early series of illustrative graphics that comments on the brutality of the Pinochet military regime. However, in the late 1970s, Henin took a break from the art world, as she—like many of her female colleagues—perceived it as too markedly dominated by men.

When she publicly resurfaced in the 1980s, her work became both more painterly and introspective, circling, literally and metaphorically, around the female figure. This focus still holds true for her current practice, including the pieces on view in her second show at this venue. The ten colorful large-scale drawings, a selection from her most recent series of 140 works on paper, unfold a panorama of social and inner conflicts, pairing male and female figures that fight and debate, or aggressively penetrate or gently merge into one another. With their totemic postures and firm contours, they appear as if Henin has combined Paul Klee’s drawing style with X-ray images, perfusing them with currents of energy. In Untitled (9) (all 2018/19), a female form seems to be piercing the head of her male counterpart, who, in turn, seems to be sucking her life force from her. Henin’s works are full of ambivalences, yet more often than not, it is the female figures who must battle for space beyond the confines of her drawing paper.