Critics’ Picks

Sofiyah McCormack, Chin up, 2017, watercolor and collage on paper, 15 x 11".

Sofiyah McCormack, Chin up, 2017, watercolor and collage on paper, 15 x 11".

New York


5 East Broadway #402
August 20–September 24, 2017

“I don’t enjoy it here / squatting on this island / looking picturesque and mythical,” says the narrator of Margaret Atwood’s 1974 poem “Siren Song,” a second-wave-feminist retort to Homer’s amphibious temptresses in the Odyssey. Today, it appears that sirens have been culturally domesticated, seen less as femmes fatales than as ethereal beauty inspirations for #mermaidhair and #seawitch looks. “Pearls,” curated by Natalie Yang, brings together works by seven female artists in their early twenties who reclaim the siren as a symbol of desire, ecosorcery, and vulnerability.

A recent New York transplant from California, Yang includes two of her own works in the show. The rainbow-colored whorls of her weaving Untitled (all works cited, 2017) recall oceanic eddies and the recesses of the female body, while the photograph Brianna captures a dark-haired Ophelia submerged in water. Photographers Lula Hyers and Grace Hazel also depict lithe sirens in unspoiled nature, updating the sexualized tableaux of Gen X-ers such as Ryan McGinley and Justine Kurland for the Instagram age.

More piercing, however, are the quasi-surrealist works that consider the sea as a site of mystery and danger. In Grace Milk’s gouache-and-collage painting Bedtime Bacchanal, narrow-eyed nymphs frolic with maritime creatures and a nubile aardvark-woman hybrid, bedecked with a body chain. Sofiyah McCormack, who lives in Sydney, shows watercolor-and-collage compositions based on the shape of the poisoned Citarum River in West Java, the region from which her family hails. Imelda, named after her grandmother, traces the river’s shape over three sheets of paper. McCormack’s angry Chin up shows us a tributary split into two dangling, ovarian forms, one bearing the cut-out image of a shark’s mouth dripping blood.