Critics’ Picks

  • Piero Gilardi, Temporale e pesche cadute ((Thunderstorm and Fallen Peaches), 1967,polyurethane foam under Plexiglas cover, 5 9/10 x 5 9/10 x 7'.

    Piero Gilardi, Temporale e pesche cadute ((Thunderstorm and Fallen Peaches), 1967,
    polyurethane foam under Plexiglas cover, 5 9/10 x 5 9/10 x 7'.

    Piero Gilardi

    Michel Rein | Paris
    42 rue de Turenne
    September 5–October 24, 2020

    Piero Gilardi is best known for the polyurethane “Nature Carpets” he has made since the mid-1960s. Depicting realistic landscapes such as seashores, agricultural fields, and woodlands, these rugs vary widely in size, format, and orientation. Of the fifteen such works on view here, two five-foot squares—Temporale e pesche cadute (Thunderstorm and Fallen Peaches) and Greto di torrente (Riverbed) (both 1967), a peach-littered lawn and a stony creek, respectively—are displayed on the floor. The remainder, which includes five smaller tondos produced while the artist was in coronavirus confinement in his native Turin, decorate the walls.

    Though some earlier works are protected by Plexiglas, Gilardi intended these carpets to be walked, slept, and picnicked on as one would do on the terrains they represent. The artist’s chosen material—a synthetic foam used in mattresses and couch cushions—helps his landscapes merge comfortably into a domestic setting. Luckily, visitors to the current exhibition can physically experience Algues Tortes, 2007. Not a carpet, but a foam bench in the form of a log, this work, titled for a park in the Pyrenees, emits bird chirps if someone sits on just the right spot.

    Illustrating Gilardi’s equally important role as an activist, curator Valérie Da Costa has included examples of the artist’s workers’ rights posters as well as a few of his protest props. Kossiga-Dracula, 1991, a giant mask depicting a grotesque caricature of President Francesco Cossiga with vampire teeth, was confiscated by the police during a 1991 demonstration in Turin and only returned to Gilardi in 2011. In O.G.M Free (O.M.G Free), 2014, three ears of corn with jack-o’-lantern-style faces carry a banner promoting nongenetically modified crops. Here displayed on mannequins, the costumes were originally worn during Milan’s “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” World Expo in 2015. Amid the current backdrop of plentiful and overlapping environmental and political crises, Gilardi’s art-as-activism appears more vital than ever.

  • Margaux Valengin, Cosmic Inversion, 2020, acrylic & oil on canvas, 50 x 36''.

    Margaux Valengin, Cosmic Inversion, 2020, acrylic & oil on canvas, 50 x 36''.

    Margaux Valengin

    70 rue des Gravilliers
    September 3–October 3, 2020

    Sang Tu Erres,” the French title of Margaux Valengin’s show, translates as “Blood You Wander.” Phonetically, it sounds like sanctuaire, or “sanctuary”—but there’s no sense of refuge in Valengin’s paintings, in which organs unfold and animals glower. Hers is a chimeric universe of troubling hybrids and uncanny illusions. Anatomy becomes macabre, perverse, easily invaded; the female body is severed and hollowed out, like some Victorian-era illustrated physiological study.

    The nine canvases on view warp the body and unsettle the psyche: In The Newly Born Woman (all works 2020)named after Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément’s text debunking “the veiled structures of language and society that have situated women in the position called ‘woman’s place’”—a female figure is trapped inside a nest of ropy innards, corporeal elements exteriorized into yet another sinister cage. The surrealist aesthetic, which the accompanying gallery text likens, perhaps a bit loosely, to that of Leonora Carrington, evokes a scrambled dreamscape veering into nightmare. In Folle, a hand with elongated fingers dangles down the length of the canvas, superimposed over a chained greyhound and swiftly advancing wild horses with their pasterns outstretched. A topsy-turvy, five-story brick building is just one of the askew components in Cosmic Inversion, where a woman’s shapely calves and angled wrists simultaneously straddle and merge with a dog’s body. In Mors Hardcord, another woman woman—cut off above her kneecaps, leaving visible only the hem of her skirt, her stockinged calves, and her heels—is encircled by equestrian accoutrements like some haywire design for an Hermès foulard. Valengin’s work is overrun by gendered malaise, the female experience encrypted in an unsettling mélange of body horror and diffuse, quotidian menace. In this era of surfacing whisper networks and lurching toxic masculinity, the wariness feels resonant.