Critics’ Picks

Katharina Wulff, Maedchen mit Jagdhunden (Girl with Hunting Dogs), 2010, oil and charcoal on canvas, 52 1/4 x 73 1/2".

Katharina Wulff, Maedchen mit Jagdhunden (Girl with Hunting Dogs), 2010, oil and charcoal on canvas, 52 1/4 x 73 1/2".

New York

Katharina Wulff

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street Ground Floor
September 9–October 16, 2010

“Hysteric Whimsy,” the translated title of Katharina Wulff’s latest exhibition, “Wanwizzi,” could very well describe much recent figurative painting. The idea of paintings whose subjectively tailored idiosyncrasies, their very wanwizzi, lie in an ability to effectively claim ownership of the masterful subjects of premodernist painting—this, despite obvious ironies, draws artists such as John Currin, Lukas Duwenhogger, and Mark Ryden into dangerously close proximity. Or consider, on the other hand, the work of Karen Kilimnik and Elizabeth Peyton, where the uniform lack of a master’s surface is the distinguishing feature; such work, given its fluent inability to disown prescribed social motifs, speaks the master’s tongue despite its unorthodox accent.

Much like the archaic word itself, Wulff’s particular wanwizzi is largely unspoken within the figurative regimes of contemporary art. For in Wulff’s canvases, the uniformity of figures is an uncertain affair. Works are populated with “unfinished”-looking disruptions: unrendered portraits surrounded by theatrical masks; bodies whose meticulous brushwork trails off into charcoal sketching; landscapes with only faint hints of peopled narratives. Elsewhere in this show, other works are “too finished,” replete with a discomfiting formal eccentricity that borders on the grotesque and amateurish.

Drawing heavily on the submodern idioms of Symbolism and Surrealism, Wulff’s technique also echoes modernism’s analytic visuality—namely the Cézanne who preferred to paint the space between his apples. Works proceed unpredictably to their completed state, leaving figures fixed in visual moments throughout the psychological and material experience of committing them to canvas; these are interrupted always by a “hysteric whimsy” that productively fails to seize Wulff’s mannered subjects in a uniformity that might be recognizable to the self-identifying techniques routinely unquestioned by contemporary culture.