Critics’ Picks

Margaux Valengin, Cosmic Inversion, 2020, acrylic & oil on canvas, 50 x 36''.

Margaux Valengin, Cosmic Inversion, 2020, acrylic & oil on canvas, 50 x 36''.


Margaux Valengin

70 rue des Gravilliers
September 3–October 3, 2020

Sang Tu Erres,” the French title of Margaux Valengin’s show, translates as “Blood You Wander.” Phonetically, it sounds like sanctuaire, or “sanctuary”—but there’s no sense of refuge in Valengin’s paintings, in which organs unfold and animals glower. Hers is a chimeric universe of troubling hybrids and uncanny illusions. Anatomy becomes macabre, perverse, easily invaded; the female body is severed and hollowed out, like some Victorian-era illustrated physiological study.

The nine canvases on view warp the body and unsettle the psyche: In The Newly Born Woman (all works 2020)named after Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément’s text debunking “the veiled structures of language and society that have situated women in the position called ‘woman’s place’”—a female figure is trapped inside a nest of ropy innards, corporeal elements exteriorized into yet another sinister cage. The surrealist aesthetic, which the accompanying gallery text likens, perhaps a bit loosely, to that of Leonora Carrington, evokes a scrambled dreamscape veering into nightmare. In Folle, a hand with elongated fingers dangles down the length of the canvas, superimposed over a chained greyhound and swiftly advancing wild horses with their pasterns outstretched. A topsy-turvy, five-story brick building is just one of the askew components in Cosmic Inversion, where a woman’s shapely calves and angled wrists simultaneously straddle and merge with a dog’s body. In Mors Hardcord, another woman woman—cut off above her kneecaps, leaving visible only the hem of her skirt, her stockinged calves, and her heels—is encircled by equestrian accoutrements like some haywire design for an Hermès foulard. Valengin’s work is overrun by gendered malaise, the female experience encrypted in an unsettling mélange of body horror and diffuse, quotidian menace. In this era of surfacing whisper networks and lurching toxic masculinity, the wariness feels resonant.