Critics’ Picks

James Whittingham, A woman comes down the stairs., 2018, pencil on paper, 16.5 x 35".

James Whittingham, A woman comes down the stairs., 2018, pencil on paper, 16.5 x 35".


James Whittingham

Gustav-Adolf-Strasse 13
October 27–December 2, 2018

Coyly titled “Bed und Breakfast,” James Whittingham’s current exhibition consists of three small pencil drawings on paper, framed with rudimentary plastic foil and Sellotape. The press release is similarly austere, with just three lines describing the works in a literal fashion. A banqueting table is laid with breakfast under a vaulted ceiling. (all works 2018) depicts coffee and croissants laid on an exaggerated medieval table. The palatial, church-like structure evokes a feeling of sanctuary, yet the recently extinguished candle accentuates the emptiness engulfing the room, as if a houseguest has outstayed their welcome and dines alone in spite of the spread. Gracefully descending a large staircase, the figure in A woman comes down the stairs. channels Gloria Swanson waiting for her close-up in Sunset Boulevard. Her face, though, has been erased and redrawn, recalling the comically botched restoration of the fresco of Jesus by octogenarian Spanish amateur restorer Cecilia Giménez.

A pet plays with a ball of string in a room full of knights in shining armour. is perhaps the most uncanny image of the three, with the titular creature—a vaguely feline cryptid with a feather tail—disarmingly carefree in the face of a threatening flank of guarded figures. There are echoes from Whittingham’s novella Drones & Dresses (2016), loosely centered around ideas of nationalism, as well as his exhibition “Coming Out” at London’s 3236RLS project space this year, for which he photographed the gallerists dressed as cops and depicted homoerotic locker-room scenes at a police station. Here, again, the artist invites viewers into a surreal fantasy land in which the dour and decadent, eldritch and jokey are placed side by side, subjecting tropes of authority and class to sardonic inquiry.