Critics’ Picks

  • Evelyn Taocheng Wang, Cheongsam No. 4 – Gossip, 2019, digital C-Print, 12 1/2 x 16 1/2".

    Evelyn Taocheng Wang

    88 Mile End Road Unit 4
    June 20–July 20, 2019

    Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s annotated montage drawings, titled “Eight View of Oud-Charlois, No. 1–No. 8,” 2019, are nonplussed, if sympathetic, dissections of her very ordinary suburban Rotterdam neighbors: an elderly man walking his melancholic Pekingese, a puffer-jacketed family entering a supermarket, an indistinct group converging on a snowy street corner. Vignetted comments like “How come . . .” jar with the delicacy of these affectionately rendered banal scenes to indicate Wang’s uncertainty as to whether or not this is a world in which she ought to take part.

    This ambivalence toward the quotidian is staged in an adjacent series of photographs that see Wang leaning against a brick column or sitting in an unremarkably furnished, plant-filled living room that epitomizes homey normalcy. She wears a cheongsam and stares expressionlessly at the camera. In Cheongsam No. 2 – Northern Rage, 2019, the luxuriously patterned dress screams against the restrained Dutch interior. In Cheongsam No. 4 – Gossip, 2019, Wang cradles a paperback, lounging diagonally before a sewing machine, with her face and feet in shadow. The starkly lit black-and-white of the tartan dress bisects the room like a blade.

    Two videos address the hopes and anxieties accompanying radical identity alteration. The hand-drawn animation Three Versions of Change, 2018, retells the “Frog Prince” fairy tale, albeit with hideous, kiss-triggered metamorphoses. All does not end well when the disappointed princess smashes the hapless amphibian against a wall. Hospital Conversations, 2018, assembles slow pans of modernized institutional hallways; shots of church congregation clothing being adapted, sewn, and worn; and archival and modern-day footage of cyclists using Rotterdam’s innovatively engineered Maastunnel. Each of these subjects, contemporary or archaic, occupies separate space-time frames, yet all are driven to evolve. Wang seems to suggest that the desires behind “wearing” a city or a set of beliefs by modifying and traversing them may not be so alien from the impulses underlying the transformation of our own bodies.

  • Deborah Roberts, Red, White and Blue, 2018, mixed media and collage on canvas, 72 x 60".

    Deborah Roberts

    Stephen Friedman Gallery
    25-28 Old Burlington Street
    July 6–July 20, 2019

    “Manipulation of the photograph is as old as photography itself,” opens Dawn Adès’s introduction to Photomontage (1976). The term photomontage was popularized by the Berlin Dadaists—Hannah Höch, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmannund so weiter—as a means to define their “anti-art,” the splicing and collaging of photographs with newspaper and magazine clippings, as genre. Their avant-garde dismembering of reality was rooted in political provocation, and the desire to reconfigure the world by reconfiguring images has endured throughout history.

    Deborah Roberts’s practice has followed this sociopolitical lineage, marshaling those strategies to push back against entrenched ideas of beauty, black femininity, and white supremacy. For this exhibition, Roberts has created amalgamated images of children, combining found photographs with painted details and flat planes of color. Best encapsulated in Armor or Red, White and Blue, both 2018, running motifs of boxing gloves and empowered postures—raised fists, hands on hips, legs askance—imply resistance and black power while also mimicking the cartoonish choreography of superheroes. The message is occasionally more ambiguous, representing an oscillation between strength and vulnerability. A young boy in a Superman T-shirt crouches while covering his head in The soil, 2019, whereas a young girl carries a white face in The burden, 2019. Each of the show’s figures wields agency, refusing mere consumption by directly returning the viewer’s gaze in a stare that sometimes includes multiple pairs of eyes. The children’s dynamism and variety are reinforced by Roberts’s use of collage—here both a metaphor and a means to depict the multiplicity of black life. There is specificity and openness to their representation: The combination of the real (the photographs) and the imagined (the painting) echoes the Dadaists’ manipulation of the familiar with the fictional, encouraging us to see the world anew.