Critics’ Picks

Rosalind Nashashibi, Europa’s Bull, 2020, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 31 1/2".

Rosalind Nashashibi, Europa’s Bull, 2020, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 31 1/2".


Rosalind Nashashibi

GRIMM | Van Baerlestraat
Van Baerlestraat 80
October 17–November 21, 2020

Rosalind Nashashibi’s newest series of paintings grew out of a residency at London’s National Gallery. Given a year with an on-site studio and invited to engage directly with the institution’s holdings of more than 2,300 objects, she has responded with nuanced interpretations not of central motifs of famous paintings, but of their marginalia. Here, under-considered details from the collection are remixed into nine of Nashashibi’s own small and vivid oil works, each a snippet from history always rendered intimately in uncannily recognizable and sometimes startling scenes. At a time in which the encyclopedic museum model faces increasing pressure, the artist’s reformulations—of Renaissance works all the way to modernist canvases—channel ongoing efforts to rethink the meaning and value of canonicity.

Toward the back of the gallery, past evenly spaced paintings focusing on embellished garb and simple torsos, hangs Europa’s Bull, 2020, which shows the titular animal in a roughly contrived landscape. The ochre tones of the packed dirt and the white bull’s tan hide augment the festive colors of a small blue-flowered garland, cushioned in fresh green leaves, that wobbles under and over his meek horns. The painting’s ambiguous emotionality collects in the watery, bloodshot edges of the bull’s black-brown eyes. Tense lines strain a face whose contours are formed by thin layers of scraped paint.

The bull references various paintings titled The Rape of Europa; Paolo Veronese’s hangs in the National Gallery, but the bull painted by Nashashibi is directly connected to Titian’s better-known version from 1560–1562. The animal is a symbol of brute force and virility as well as the guise that Zeus would take for his abduction of the nymph named Europa. Yet the emotive creature defies this invented symbolism, and the exhibition as a whole critiques the allegorical European tradition as a claim of domination over the natural world, in turn using painting as a method to imbue old representations with new life.