Critics’ Picks

Martha Friedman, Untitled, 2018, concrete, rubber, and steel. Photo: Mark Woods.

Martha Friedman, Untitled, 2018, concrete, rubber, and steel. Photo: Mark Woods.


Martha Friedman

Henry Art Gallery
15th Avenue NE & NE 41st Street
June 15, 2018–February 10, 2019

Martha Friedman’s “Castoffs” appears at first to be a vast, sterile grid of white pedestals bearing fragments of archaic figurative sculpture. But descend among them, and one is quickly roused from this initial read. Metal spikes penetrate and dissect anatomical cement casts of arched feet, tensed spines, and clinched shoulders; extremities balance precariously on masses of rubber clotting in viscous chunks; latex tubes in brownish reds and dingy yellows protrude from limbs before looping back like intravenous lines. Intermittently, larger-than-life glass fingers beckon like some perverse siren’s song. Despite their modest scale and rigid arrangement, when intimately confronted these Frankensteinian assemblages are unsettling in their suggestion of ambulatory barely contained-ness, as though a safe distance is best advised.

Building upon and at times recycling studio detritus from the formal and material vocabulary of previous exhibitions, Friedman continues her ongoing interrogation of the entanglements of corporeal vulnerabilities and the body politic. Though she has staged performers to interact with her work before, here she has literally cast a male subject—that of dancer and choreographer Silas Riener—and manipulated his constituent parts to invert the traditionally gendered dynamics of the passive muse and the active artist. Linda Nochlin had a lot to say about the “body in pieces” in the phrase’s titular book from 2001, in which she theorizes fragmentation as a motif that both defines and subverts modernist notions of coherence and rationality. “Castoffs” might well serve as a contemporary addendum to Nochlin’s text, reflecting, as it does, the scars invoked by the exigent gender battles of the current moment—and a necessary disavowal of wellness as synonymous with wholeness.