Critics’ Picks

Julien Nguyen, St George & The Dragon, 2017, oil and tempera on wood panel, 36 x 22".

Julien Nguyen, St George & The Dragon, 2017, oil and tempera on wood panel, 36 x 22".


Julien Nguyen

Modern Art Vyner Street
50-58 Vyner Street
May 18–June 23, 2018

Lithe, androgynous bodies inhabit the canvases in Julien Nguyen’s first solo exhibition here. Hung in the gallery’s chapel-like upstairs space, the artist’s works are homages to Western religious painting, with tableaux such as the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and references to biblical suffering: mortification of the flesh and, of course, crucifixion. Nguyen queers his images by making strangers, friends, and old lovers the characters in his pictures. The artist asks us to consider the significance of these ancient Christian stories in contemporary life.

St George & The Dragon (all works cited, 2017) features the titular character wielding an enormous blade while wearing a regal tricorn hat. His crimson military jacket and shirt are unbuttoned, revealing a smooth and tightly muscled torso. He stands triumphant over the slain beast’s head as both a homoerotic hero and a brilliantly flamboyant dandy. There’s a similar sexual charge in The Baptism, where an ectomorphic Christ, rendered in a decidedly manga style, readies himself for the sacred ablution. The composition is quite similar to that of Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ, ca. 1437, though there is no dove famously marking the presence of the Holy Spirit. And why would it? Nguyen’s picture—with its well-endowed, smoky-eyed, ginger-haired Jesus tended to by a handsome, ephebic John with a trio of twinky angels in attendance—suggests a different kind of passion play.