Critics’ Picks

View of “Mary Simpson: Boys or Women,” 2015.

View of “Mary Simpson: Boys or Women,” 2015.


Mary Simpson

David Petersen Gallery
2018 Lyndale Ave. S.
April 11–May 23, 2015

“You laugh when boys or women tell their dreams,” the imprisoned Cleopatra, longing for Antony’s face to appear in her sleep, tells the guard Dolabella in Shakespeare’s play. Taking its title from this scene, Mary Simpson’s latest exhibition, “Boys or Women,” explores a tension between ungovernable dreams and the forces that police or discredit them. In photo collages and oil paintings she pits the sensual and instinctive against reason––probing an interplay between narrative and abstraction, control and impulse, geometric and amorphous primal shapes.

A standout is Tiger and Goat, 2015, a diptych in which chalklike markings, reminiscent of cave paintings, stretch across two inky green panels, each bordered by yellow frames. In juxtaposing the rigid frame with expressive, inchoate form, Simpson gestures toward the unruliness of images and our attempts to incorporate them into ordered systems of meaning.

Simpson often employs repetitive actions: drawing a squeegee back and forth, applying adhesive tape and scraping it away. Through these mad reiterations she implies a mastery of the image is achieved. “Any chimp can fling paint,” she writes in an imagined conversation with a man named Gerhard (presumably Richter) that functions as the show’s press release. “What if control is just the cycle of doing something over and over again? You reach for the image and it is there for you.” Hers is the same subliminal logic of the sleepwalker plodding along set paths each night—it is one that disinherits the rational, conscious mind to access deeper truths.