Critics’ Picks

Susana Gaudêncio, Houyhnhnm, 2009, still from a video animation, 2 minutes 37 seconds.

New York

Susana Gaudêncio

ISE Cultural Foundation
555 Broadway
October 23–November 20

For her solo show last January at Lisbon’s Carlos Carvalho Gallery, the Portuguese, New York–based artist Susana Gaudêncio presented, among other pieces, Building Icons (Structures) (all works 2009), which is also on view in this exhibition, her New York debut. In that video animation, the artist blends pictures of laborers and of iconic modernist constructions, including Buckminster Fuller’s futuristic Montreal Biosphère of 1967. Merging the fields of design and production, Gaudêncio examines the Industrial Revolution’s division of labor—rooted in the separation of the intellectual and manual realms—and the social stratification it has generated in capitalist economies.

In Houyhnhnm, Gaudêncio continues to animate digitally manipulated, colorful renderings drawn from media photographs or found-video footage. This work’s title is inspired by the Houyhnhnms in Jonathan Swift’s classic novel Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a community that, favoring reason over emotion, is contrasted with the Yahoos, a group of savage, humanlike creatures. The Houyhnhnm society is a metaphor employed in Gaudêncio’s vision of the world, wherein utopia and dystopia are distorted mirror images of each other. Here, the artist renders propaganda slogans, political figures such as Margaret Thatcher, and demonstrations, while alluding to the passionate, convoluted history of radical thought.

Five additional works on view compose the series “Crowd Shape,” which complements the artist’s investigation of idealistic themes. Black-and-white, newspaper-style photographic prints of multitudes in public spaces are partially covered by facades of postmodern buildings. For example, in Crowd Shape #1, the artist overlays a gathering in a town square with various architectural structures in a manner that recalls Constructivist imagery. With a delicate treatment of aesthetic trends and elaborate references to politics, Gaudêncio smartly addresses progressive grand narratives through the lenses of mass psychology and cultural tradition.