Critics’ Picks

Jonathan Horowitz, Liberated Bonsai in Antique Tin Bath, 2012, reclaimed tin bath, bonsai, china bowl, spray paint, 21 x 65 x 26".


Jonathan Horowitz and Elizabeth Peyton

Sadie Coles HQ | Davies Street
1 Davies Street
June 7–August 25

For an exhibition about repression, Jonathan Horowitz and Elizabeth Peyton’s “Secret Life” is remarkably free of tension. The works collectively emanate a genteel serenity, with Horowitz’s large-scale paintings and planters alongside Peyton’s modestly sized paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints forming a harmonious partnership. Horowitz and Peyton pluck inspiration from a heady bouquet of source material, exposing and examining suppressed libidinous urges. Their referents range from Freud to Christopher Bird’s The Secret Life of Plants, from the anonymously written Victorian diary of sexual obsession My Secret Life to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Yet they produce understated and gentle works that appear comfortably accepting of sexuality’s full spectrum from procreation to perceived perversion.

Such a show might easily have relied on lush colors and voluptuousness, but the palette for “Secret Life” is surprisingly subdued. The two small bonsai that Horowitz planted in a wood-slatted cylindrical vessel and a Victorian freestanding bathtub, respectively titled Liberated Bonsai in Reclaimed Wood Barrel and Liberated Bonsai in Antique Tin Bath, both 2012, appear lonesome inside their oversize surroundings. But because Horowitz’s murky gray silhouettes of potted ferns are painted with plant-based house paint on linen, the paintings themselves can count as the grandchildren of plants past. Ties between horticulture and human sexuality are represented more explicitly by the soft and sensual brushstrokes in Peyton’s oil paintings, where flowers in vases and framed pictures of Yvonne Rainer and Freud occupy the paintings’ foreground, while intertwined couples can be discerned behind them, almost hidden from view like the desires they demonstrate.