Critics’ Picks

Tal R, Altsadt Girl, 2014, oil on canvas, 30 3/4 x 48".

New York

Tal R

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
January 15–February 14

Mingling homage with sabotage, Tal R frequently adopts the styles of other painters to produce anachronistic works. For his seductive new show, “Altstadt Girl,” the Copenhagen-based artist nimbly channels Modigliani and Matisse, creating clever modernist chimeras with contemporary bite. Abstracted female nudes with masklike faces shower, smoke, and lounge like odalisques in richly patterned, jewel-toned interiors. One standing woman, her body rendered in the shades of a particularly spectacular sunset, holds up an actual mask, a puckish, art-historical in-joke on primitivism. The figure in ET, 2014, sports the signature high ponytail of Sylvette, Picasso’s teenage muse. Knowing details aside, it’s enough to simply catch a contact high from R’s obvious enjoyment of paint and color. Three stripes of red, yellow, and blue on Sylvette’s neck serve as a subtle ode: This is the trio that makes everything else possible.

Twenty-seven black crayon drawings on vividly painted paper also feature undressed women but are more psychologically complex: The models return or avoid the artist’s gaze as individuals, alternately coy or confrontational, stiff or serene, and their surroundings are highly personal, apartments crammed with digital alarm clocks, desk lamps, and cluttered coffee tables. The series riffs as much on the tradition of the female nude as it does on photographers such as Olivier Zahm and Terry Richardson, who upload the fruits of soft-core sessions with beautiful amateurs to online diaries. It’s easy to flip through a glut of these images without registering the woman’s mood, let alone the wallpaper. R’s drawings keep the offhand spontaneity of snapshots, but his devotion to detail—the undulating tread on the sole of a sneaker, the water tower visible through one girl’s window—makes the viewer linger over subject matter others have rendered regrettably banal.