Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Casa Malaparte: Furniture,” 2020.

    View of “Casa Malaparte: Furniture,” 2020.

    Casa Malaparte: Furniture

    Gagosian | Davies Street
    17-19 Davies St
    June 15–September 19, 2020

    In the filmic imaginary, Casa Malaparte in Capri, Italy, famously registers the domestic ennui at the heart of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (1963). Conceived in its entirety—from the layout to the furnishings—by Italian novelist, political journalist, and diplomat Curzio Malaparte, the iconic structure is a matchbox-shaped, Pompeian-red stucco dwelling perched on a promontory shrouded in vegetation and encircled by the aquamarine waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. A spectacle of landscape architecture, the home, built between 1937 and 1942, offered an ambitious vision of Italian modernism. Yet its interior is somewhat unassuming, charting the path for a rustic, Mediterranean minimalism.

    For this exhibition, Tommaso Rositani Suckert, Malaparte’s great-nephew, has created editioned reproductions of the furniture that adorns the home to this day, staging them on white stone flooring to approximate Casa Malaparte’s beige tonalities. Three key pieces from 1941—a table, a bench, and a console––feature walnut slabs with varying supports: Doric columns in Carrara marble, rippling pillars of varnished pine, and squat tuff-stone capitals. Looming in the gallery entryway is a large landscape photo—housed in a burly wooden frame—of the rugged limestone oceanside that surrounds the home, providing the exhibition with a sort of escapist mise-en-scène.

    Also on view are a collection of Malaparte’s personal effects, including Baroque porcelain figurines and a candelabra adorned with entwined cherubs; a display case featuring copies of Malaparte’s literary magazine, Prospettive; and editions of his wartime diplomatic memoirs, Kaputt (1944) and The Skin (1949). On that note, Malaparte’s checkered political past is diplomatically bypassed in the exhibition. Earning nefarious distinction as “fascism’s best pen,” he provided significant intellectual fodder for Mussolini’s National Fascist Party (PNF), yet openly mocked dictatorship as “the most complete form of jealousy.” Expelled from the PNF in 1933, he was intermittently imprisoned before and during the war, after which he would align with the Italian Communist Party. The exhibition’s account of Malaparte the aesthete is a limited one, but largely by design. After all, he referred affectionately to Casa Malaparte as the “casa come me” (house like me).

  • Jack Whitten, Birth Of An Enigma, 1964, oil on canvas with burlap collage, 50 x 84 x 1".

    Jack Whitten, Birth Of An Enigma, 1964, oil on canvas with burlap collage, 50 x 84 x 1".

    Arshile Gorky and Jack Whitten

    Hauser & Wirth London | Savile Row
    23 Savile Row
    Online only. May 20 - December 31, 2020

    Arshile Gorky and Jack Whitten were both exiles who saw painting as a place. Gorky’s family fled the Armenian genocide when he was a child, eventually settling in New York City in 1920. Whitten, an African American born in segregated Alabama, inevitably experienced color as a more punitive index. Both artists suffused their work with a tension between the rural and the city as a space of self-reinvention, creating vivid sense impressions as buoyant and evanescent as butterflies in a net.

    Despite the generation gap—Gorky took his own life in 1948; Whitten began painting in the early ’60s—these works talk to each other: a kinship plotted through restless surfaces attuned to displaced souls. In Gorky’s Virginia Landscape, c. 1944, fiery pockets of crayoned yellow and cerise bloom into white clouds, rendering the Southern bucolic with trembling vitality. From the same vintage, Untitled, c. 1944–45, unstrings the topography and scatters it like beads. Patches of pastel emerald float amid bright organic shapes of speckled orange and ash. Skeletal, unadorned pencil lines evoke a tree shedding its leaves.

    Whitten’s King’s Wish (Martin Luther’s Dream), 1968, is a chromatic explosion, all distorted human faces emerging from a swirl of deep pinks and swollen purples. In Birth of An Enigma, 1964, forms pulse and vibrate as if seen through a microscope: strange, swimming globules, though one can make out prison bars on the burlap, too. This echoes Gorky’s Pastoral, 1947, a Surrealist mass of fleshy humanlike parts, all the queasier in our new, screenbound life.

    Finally, Quantum Wall, VIII (For Arshile Gorky, My First Love in Painting), 2017, is Whitten’s valentine to the elder abstractionist. Created a year before Whitten’s death at seventy-eight, the vibrant acrylic tessellation joins two artists who embraced the canvas as a route toward spiritual freedom; another diaspora through which they tried to find a home.