Critics’ Picks

Sarah Contos, 20th Century Sunrise (Gloria #3), 2017, screen print on canvas and metallic fabric, aluminum, 40 1/2 x 34 x 9".

Sarah Contos, 20th Century Sunrise (Gloria #3), 2017, screen print on canvas and metallic fabric, aluminum, 40 1/2 x 34 x 9".

Sydney

Sarah Contos

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
8 Soudan Lane, Paddington
May 18–June 17, 2017

In the work of Sydney-based artist Sarah Contos, mystery and camp are treated with an Old Hollywood glamour that Warhol would have been jealous of. Having had a career as a set designer, Contos is now essentially a sculptor; however, also included in the show are three outstanding screen prints—Before Transcending Moonlight (Gloria # 1), Eclipsing Hollywood (Gloria # 2), and 20th Century Sunrise (Gloria #3) (all works 2017)—each featuring a publicity headshot of the actress Gloria Swanson from a different phase in her career. Best known for her role as the pitiful, forgotten silent movie star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950), here a melodramatic Swanson is accompanied by draped, folded, and pleated silk-screened sheets of metallic fabric, at once suggesting celluloid film and well-worn movie magazine posters. Contos extends her fascination with the line between classical and retro in Fragonard—a hollow frame, resembling a mirror, composed of aluminum and pink, green, black, and purple metallic fabric—and Cocktails and Dreams, a shiny freestanding sculpture of a large straw and a fanlike decoration that looks as if it were modeled on a bad 1980s cocktail.

Contos wears her influences on her sleeve, with her works bringing to mind the Australian artists David Noonan and Hany Armanious—both represented by this gallery—as well as the enigmatic bricoleurs Isa Genzken and Rachel Harrison. A testament to her background in theater, the show’s real strength is the artist’s installation design, which intelligently balances elegance and impulsiveness, like many of the works themselves. As Warhol knew very well, it takes a lot of skill to look this nonchalant.