Critics’ Picks

Nastia Zhegal, from the series “Brod Lik,” 2019–21, bread, found objects, plants, clay, dimensions variable. Photo: Maksim Arkatov.

Nastia Zhegal, from the series “Brod Lik,” 2019–21, bread, found objects, plants, clay, dimensions variable. Photo: Maksim Arkatov.

Moscow

Nastia Zhegal

Moscow Museum of Modern Art
25 Petrovka Street (also at 10 Gogolevsky blvd, 9 Tverskoy blvd, and 17 Ermolaevsky lane)
September 2–October 10, 2021

There seems to be a tendency among contemporary Eastern European artists toward a specific Surrealist operation that, in his time, Georges Bataille termed “base materialism”: the destabilization of the dichotomy of high and low in favor of material that escapes all definition. What distinguishes Nastia Zhegal’s engagement with this idiom as especially astute is the way she approaches its early-twentieth century origins through an awareness of the critical space that took shape in the decades that ensued. If you ever wondered, What if Alina Szapocznikow, but after Jane Bennett?, Zhegal’s work would be a good place to look for an answer.

Think back a little over a year ago to a moment when, faced with the terrifying reality of our anatomies as breeding grounds for bacterial life, so many of us elected to cope by trapping some of that bacteria in a jar and watching it bloom into sourdough. Similar loaves and porous textures make up the main medium of Zhegal’s sculpture. Artfully carved, charred, and anthropomorphized through the rudimentary device of embedded plaster eyes, these loaf faces and crumb towers thrill with their exquisite combination of finesse and crudity—basic materiality challenging the limits of figuration and then exulting in the resulting pareidolia. Zhegal emphasizes the point further by supplementing the objects on display with a scattered collection of photos of nature, the kind where a good squint can just about make out a human face embedded in a tree trunk or, alternately, may find only an empty field.