Critics’ Picks

Amelie von Wulffen, Petting 1 +2, 2017, oil on board, 24 1/2 x 30".

New York

Amelie von Wulffen

Reena Spaulings Fine Art | New York
165 East Broadway 2nd Floor
March 9–April 22

Those in search of art’s foulest perversions and most ruthless cruelties must turn to the fairy tale. Amelie von Wulffen knows this. In the dozen paintings here, the German artist takes on many a grim matter—including childhood repression and national remorse—by casting foxes, goblins, damsels, and other creatures in folkloric vignettes of unexplained distress. Neglected children lie on the floor as monsters romp nearby; siblings neck before a rapturous bouquet; Bavarian exteriors are imbued with eerie stillness. One doesn’t know whether to pity or dread the misfits that haunt these paintings, two of which are hinged, allowing the canvas to protrude, page-like, from the wall. One of these, Petting 1 + 2 (all works cited, 2017), depicts a green troll slumped against floral wallpaper, clutching a pet cat. In the background, an oblivious boy and girl shimmy out of their clothing. The scene is typical of von Wulffen, who prizes states of psychic unease over moral or narrative clarity, an approach intensified by oils often impastoed or smeared into abstractions.

The inherited regret of children is most blatantly addressed in These Children Are Extremely Guilty, where an anthropomorphized piece of shit cradles two kittens and a wailing baby in a room painted hot pink. A schoolgirl peers up at them from her desk. The figure is likely a reference to the golem of Jewish folklore, molded from clay and an apt embodiment of the ambiguity von Wulffen plays with concerning villainy and victimhood. Then there’s Some Churchy Types, for which the artist has burdened a clump of grapes with sentience—and armed it with a wineglass, which it brandishes as it nears a band of insects huddled around a capsized ladybug. For such a zany fiction, the tableau manages to invoke, in its own dismally twee way, the estranging mentalities that continue to plague our own, inferiorly imagined world.