Critics’ Picks

Mikael Brkic, Mr. Canvas, 2017, acrylic, canvas, wood, plywood, 69 3/4 x 71".

Mikael Brkic, Mr. Canvas, 2017, acrylic, canvas, wood, plywood, 69 3/4 x 71".


Mikael Brkic

Plantagenstraße 30 (across from no. 10)
November 24–December 22, 2019

Too famous and too beige, Paris has turned into so overpowering an image, it’s impossible not to feel trapped by it. A black-and-white stock photo of two lovers promenading the Seine is duplicated thrice in Mikael Brkic’s work Paris – A Love Story, 2019, which borrows its name from former NPR correspondent Kati Marton’s memoir as well as the book’s cover image. Marton lived in Europe during the 1990s conflicts in the former Yugoslavia while her late husband, American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, negotiated the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, but this backdrop is mostly absent from her romantic recollections of the French capital. Brkic plays on such unspoken context when, in the sky over the lovers, he inserts “Á la semaine prochaine” (See you next week), in the same graffiti scrawl that adorned the Champs-Élysées Cartier shop after one of the Yellow Vest anti-austerity protests earlier this year. In the objectification of ephemera—a life into an airport paperback, a city into a postcard—elements of dissent and conflict are often flattened or left out. With a biting gallows humor, Brkic reintroduces the dissonance.

Elsewhere, he riffs on A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882, Manet’s canonical portrayal of empty-eyed Suzon, a barmaid who has seemingly become one with her trade and has begun to resemble the booze vessels around her. In a series of textile collages, Brkic presents only the bottles from the French Impressionist’s composition, stitched as flat graphics onto brightly striped backgrounds (“Folies,” 2019). In the switch from oil to fabric, painting has vacated the scene to become instead an idea. The artist extracts painting-as-concept and personifies it elsewhere in the exhibition as Mr. Canvas, 2017, a sculpture of a human-size, wasted-looking cartoon figure with a rollie cigarette, looking drunkenly resigned to the cycle of commodification in which both he and Suzon are caught. In a comic strip one work over, an animated globe offers the Canvas Man a word of advice: “Just hang tight and keep representing the myth of your own autonomy.”