Critics’ Picks

Kirsten Beets, Suburban Magic, 2017, oil on board, 48 x 34".

Kirsten Beets, Suburban Magic, 2017, oil on board, 48 x 34".

Cape Town

Kirsten Beets

Salon Ninety One
91 Kloof Street Gardens
April 5–May 13, 2017

Displayed in a window that faces onto a road trafficked by tourists, Kirsten Beets’s oil-on-paper painting Only the End of the World Again (all works 2017) depicts a tyrannosaurus rex, with its wimpy arms, attacking the sun-kissed Atlantic suburb of Sea Point in Cape Town. The real action, though, takes place in the painting’s foreground, where beachgoers, some shaded by umbrellas, sit staring at the ocean, oblivious to the nearby destruction. Eschewing the claustrophobic urban horror of King Kong and Godzilla films, Beets lightly deploys fantasy to obliquely comment on South Africa’s fraught social and environmental politics. Her oil-on-board Suburban Magic, a flatly painted study of a tiger—a species not native to this continent—seated on a plastic chair looking at an algae-ridden pool, offers another of her kooky engagements with white anxiety about place and belonging.

However, the bulk of her twenty paintings forsake comic-book flippancy in favor of an evolving abstraction. Drawing on personal photographs of picnickers, swimmers, and seaside revelry, Beets portrays groups of mixed-race subjects communing on geometric blocks of blue and green, surrogates for pools or parks. Her compositions recall the distant vantages of the Italian photographer Massimo Vitali, whose sublimated critique of leisure and political idleness she shares. A residue of the artist’s earlier interest in foliage and public gardens is evidenced in works such as Shade, featuring a white man in a botanical garden concealing a scarlet king snake. Confetti, a miscellany of carefully described leaves and blooms on a white ground, reiterates her interest in spatial abstraction while underscoring her technical facility with a genre whose origins date back to eighteenth-century colonial studies of this region’s strange abundance.