Critics’ Picks

View of “Karl Holmqvist: Men Are Women,” 2015.

View of “Karl Holmqvist: Men Are Women,” 2015.

Los Angeles

Karl Holmqvist

Freedman Fitzpatrick
Gower Plaza, 6051 Hollywood Blvd #107
September 20–November 5, 2015

On the window of Karl Holmqvist’s latest exhibition, the question “WHO RUN THIS MOTHER?”—a quote from Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)”—is lit in neon. The 2011 hit song whose refrain (which ends, “GIRLS!”) ignited an ongoing controversy over the authenticity of the celebrity’s brand of feminism. Holmqvist’s use of language is often rooted in pop culture as a way to deconstruct the ideologies of our time; he rearticulates social and economic phenomena, usually inseparable from gender issues and bodily politics.

Also visible through the glass facade are eight large, square canvases. Each one rolls out the word “RUN,” which is written in a black-and-white bold uppercase. The letters repeat and are sometimes revered. In places, umlauts have been added, and the spacing and sizes vary, which provides multifarious visual rhythms to the different compositions while undermining language’s authority. As a verb, run is linked to both power and a lack of it: to run something over, to run out of something, to run toward or away from somewhere/someone.

The repetition conjures the artist and performer’s unique mumbling voice amidst myriad personal monologues—run to obtain a perfect body and a clear mind—as well as impersonal advertising slogans for products promising that we can run and still stay dry, avoiding any trace of dirty sweat. This is not unlike the “UV print on ultra flex true canvas” technique the artist used, allowing a smudge-free finish. Flawless, Beyoncé would say. And something else happens: The at first almost illegible thin and shaky same three letters that Holmqvist has hand-sprayed in large on the walls take over, like a resisting and underground body language emerging from below the canvases—it’s as if the wallpaper (usually printed) and the paintings (usually by hand) have inverted. Holmqvist is right: To be male and square—to run the world, so to speak—is not an easy mission. IF MEN COULD ACCEPT THEIR FEMININE SIDE, WOMEN WOULD NOT NEED TO BECOME MEN.