Critics’ Picks

Tanya Akhmetgalieva, Labored breathing, 2018, watercolor on paper, 40 x 29 1/2.

Tanya Akhmetgalieva, Labored breathing, 2018, watercolor on paper, 40 x 29 1/2.


Tanya Akhmetgalieva

Ekaterina Cultural Foundation
21/5 Kuznetsky Most Street Porch 8
September 10–November 8, 2020

The blurred edges of reality form the center of Tanya Akhmetgalieva’s practice, in which weighty metaphysical issues are handled with a light, neo-Pop touch. Visitors to this exhibition, which spans the last five years of the artist’s diverse work, may draw comparisons to the environments of refracted DNA found in the novels of Jeff VanderMeer. Indeed, sci-fi tropes crop up throughout Akhmetgalieva’s paintings—from robotic arms and interspecies mutants to laser beams and Day-Glo fauna, part ’70s-era vaporware paperback cover art, part VR futurist cyborgian fantasy. Its core motifs, however, invariably derive from prosaic reality. For instance, “Gamebreakers,” 2020, an expansive multimedia series, was inspired by a box of a ghoulishly sumptuous detached dolls’ eyes (also on view) discovered at a flea market, and grew to incorporate psychedelic arenas of laser beams, cartoon mouths, and endless dots that collide figural association with decorative disorientation.

Akhmetgalieva’s video works toy with digital post-production apps and extreme close-ups to sustain an atmosphere of absorbed, absorbing uncertainty. Such is the case in the arresting Maybe she would laugh, 2020, and its deep dive inside the secret world of pinball machine imagery. Elsewhere, “Doppelgangers,” a 2018 series of watercolors, takes advantage of the medium’s inherent slipperiness in its depictions of part-human, part-vegetal hybrids suspended in an unstable wash of pastel outlines, hands sprouting heads out of fingertips, torsos gushing out blooms of undefinable matter. How perfectly they illustrate this insight from VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014): “We all live in a kind of continuous dream. When we wake, it is because something, some event, some pinprick even, disturbs the edges of what we’ve taken as reality.”