Critics’ Picks

Kinke Kooi, Grotesque of rising (2), 2018, acrylic, pencil, gouache, and collage on paper, 40 x 28 1/2".

Kinke Kooi, Grotesque of rising (2), 2018, acrylic, pencil, gouache, and collage on paper, 40 x 28 1/2".


Kinke Kooi

Lucas Hirsch
Birkenstrasse 92
September 7–October 31, 2019

The Dutch artist Kinke Kooi’s drawings, informed by a complementary beach-house color palette and featuring elements of collage, initially come across as an expressive upgrade of Ernst Haeckel’s depictions of nature. To a certain extent, this is accurate, except all of Kooi’s plants seem to originate from the Garden of Desire. Grotesque of raising (2), 2018, for instance, stars a bean pod burst open from the abundance of growing peas, while its white blooms extend their chalices toward the full moon. Enveloped in a tender embrace with a fleshy, milky membrane, the central tendril is further studded with blushing-pink pearls, shifting the richness of the work’s evocation of a double allegory of carnal desire and motherhood even further toward an allusion to scopophilia.

The versatility with which Kooi exploits her repertoire is demonstrated by the wonderful Hygiene (3), 2015. Here the mass of flesh isn’t swallowing up anything but is, rather, sufficient unto itself, whirling upward like opulent draperies and forming sensitive rises and declivities that are decorated with drawn-on pearls and pasted-on seashells. Q-tips, affixed to the paper, then carefully tickle these places. It is a true challenge, when beholding these works, to pull oneself away from their absorption with detail, especially because the artist does not trade in the libidinous exaggeration of tropes like flowers and decoration but rather illuminates the body as an intelligent and complex host—for babies, for hormone-cocktail pills, and, of course, for lovers. Kooi, who has been around since the ’80s, may fall into that category of artists who pursue their practice in obscurity for years until a discursive trend suddenly shines a light onto their work, but made clear here is that it’s a position ripe for plucking.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.