Critics’ Picks

Saw the Lady, 2007, wood, sheet metal blades, copper hardware, WILL RETURN sign, human body without head, patent leather tuxedo shoes, and step stool, dimensions variable.

New York

Jamie Isenstein

Andrew Kreps Gallery
537/535 W 22nd Street
September 6 - October 20

“Wood, sheet metal blades, copper hardware, WILL RETURN sign, human body without head, patent leather tuxedo shoes, step stool.” For her exhibition “Acéphal Magic” (acephal meaning “headless”), Jamie Isenstein turns a checklist into deadpan legerdemain. The piece these materials describe, Saw the Lady, 2007, is a variation on the classic woman-sawn-in-half routine perfected by Horace Goldin in the 1920s: a coffinlike case cut in two and punctuated by a pair of squirming ankles. Whether this is the aforementioned decapitation victim or Isenstein herself is subject to speculation. These elements are the trappings of theatrical magic, which demands of its audience no belief in the supernatural and instead peddles the delight imparted by a well-executed illusion. Certainly, Isenstein offers a few such clever tricks, such as a video of clapping hands that activates a nearby lamp, or a jug-band medley buzzed by a rotating fan rather than human breath. The charm of these sleights-of-hand, however, does not diminish the uncanny charge of Isenstein’s incorporation of her own body into the work. By becoming the obscured kernel of the exhibition, Isenstein takes Surrealism’s fascination with the lifelike qualities of dolls and automata and turns it, so to speak, on its head. Those feet in patent leather become the dismembered limbs of undetermined origin that Freud recognized as fundamentally unheimlich. Saw the Lady is neither object nor performance, but rather a haunting, a recurring presence playing to an audience of Ichabod Cranes.