Critics’ Picks

View of “Jacqueline Humphries,” 2017.

New York

Jacqueline Humphries

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street Ground floor and 8th Floor
October 27 - December 16

In the 1960s, US-government bureaucrats and corporate tinkerers developed ASCII, a symbolic code that uses the Roman alphabet to represent images. In the 1980s, its early adoption on the Usenet gave rise to ideograms for graphics—foreshadowing our current preoccupation with memes. Adapting this early-internet nostalgia with a nod to those who have apocalyptic visions of painting’s demise, Jacqueline Humphries’s recent abstract canvases hum with a frenetic energy, buoyed by their scale and thickly textured surfaces.

For these most recent paintings, Humphries has reinterpreted—or “cannibalized,” in the artist’s words—her past work, piling up laser-cut stencils of emoji and kaomoji in pieces such as (#J^^) (all works 2017), where smiley faces repeat and coalesce almost sculpturally, inviting viewers to decode the artist’s inscrutable layers. The broad, red, gestural strokes of TQ555 recall Cy Twombly’s later paintings, and the pocked surface left by the stencils adds another effervescent rhythm.

Humphries has championed innovation in abstraction, freeing it from its often self-serious origins (think of the artist’s groovy black-light paintings, which she started in 2005). But a sense of alarm can be detected in the artist’s mind: One large canvas streaked with swaths of yellow paint, under which a big, stressed-out figure can be seen, is titled simply Worried Emoji:).