Critics’ Picks

Marlene McCarty, Patty Columbo—May 4, 1976 (July 1984), 1999, graphite, ballpoint pen, and colored pencil on paper, 72 x 55".

New York

Marlene McCarty

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd Street
September 6–October 13

Marlene McCarty’s mammoth, unframed drawings of homicide and hellfire occupy two smaller spaces in the back of this gallery. Both multipart works on display—one of Patty Columbo (guilty of familicide at only nineteen years old) and another, of the China Camp site in San Rafael, California (where sixteen-year-old Marlene Olive and her boyfriend burned the bodies of her adoptive parents)—hug the gallery walls. McCarty allows viewers to get as dangerously close as they like to her exquisite ballpoint and graphite strokes. Titled “The Enormity of Time,” the exhibition takes as its locus the United States’ bicentennial in 1976. Two centuries after the country’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, Columbo and Olive were jailed for their own murderous revolts against familial strictures.

McCarty’s Columbo, portrayed four times and over the course of eight years, does not appear to age, and her clothes stay the same in each drawing. Nor does her pose change very much—she sits on her gathered robe, spreading her legs to expose her vulva through a layer of transparent fabric. Columbo’s hair, however, metamorphoses from a dyed-red shag in 1977 to a wavy pink mop in 1984—the year of her first parole hearing. The two portraits meant to portray her in 1976 feature orange and then yellow tresses. What are we to make of this solely keratinous transformation? Hearth 2 (China Camp 2009, China Camp 1975), 2010, is a diptych consisting of nearly identical renderings of the surprisingly sculptural barbecue pit Olive used to incinerate her dead parents’ bodies. (The earlier date refers to the year the Olives’ remains were discovered; 2009 is the year the artist went to visit the site.) McCarty leaves us to reckon with these vicious histories in the present tense.