Critics’ Picks

View of “If You Really Loved Me You Would Be Able to Admit that You’re Ashamed of Me,” 2013.

New York

Sverre Bjertnes and Bjarne Melgaard

White Columns
320 West 13th Street (Entrance on Horatio)
March 10 - April 20

“Do you ever question me and my loyalty as your friend?” Sverre Bjertnes asks collaborator Bjarne Melgaard in their video If You Really Loved Me You Would Be Able to Admit that You’re Ashamed of Me, 2013. Melgaard is silent. Alissa Bennett, sitting beside him, responds in his place. The moving camera continuously circumnavigates the three individuals, whose lavish sartorial ensembles change with almost every successive scan. The work was filmed at White Columns—one can even see painters in the background preparing the walls for this collaborative exhibition of the same name—where it is now on view.

Negotiation, circulation, and the process of disposal each calls for attention in this show of many sources. Robert Loughlin’s square-jawed, cigarette-smoking “Brute” is never out of view. At a time when antiques were the hot item, Loughlin triggered the market craze for midcentury retro furnishings. The gallery, replete with the artist’s furniture, paintings, and other objects, has an air of the flea markets from which he originally scouted some of the works. Meanwhile, pages from David Joselit’s essay “Painting Beside Itself,” 2009, are enlarged on vinyl sheets and lay trampled on the floor. Discarded luxury skincare packaging piles up beneath Bjertnes’s Rainbow Crucifixion, 2003, a large oil on canvas work depicting a crucified figure set against a hazy, glowing LGBT color scheme that recalls Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, 1987. The lurid color-blocked gallery walls configure a visual dialogue with the paintings they present. In Portraying Czigány Dezső, 2013, the rectangular shape of a turquoise mirror leaves the still-life tableau in the work’s top margin to continue onto the gallery wall as part of a checkered pattern. A diagonal line cuts toward the painting’s bottom left corner, complementing the image’s perspective.

The real and imagined identities that coalesce in this labyrinthine installation advance a narrative of tested devotions: a commitment not simply between the show’s Norwegian collaborators but more so to the labor of artistic production. In his essay, Joselit writes of painting that “sutured spectators to extra-perceptual social networks.” Here, art’s capacity to act beyond itself pairs with resonating site-specificity and palpable artistic diligence.