Critics’ Picks

Untitled, 1965.

Untitled, 1965.

New York

Unica Zürn

Ubu Gallery
416 East 59th Street
July 24, 2013–April 16, 2005

Despite her impressive body of literary and artistic work, Unica Zürn, like so many other great women, long seemed condemned to history’s dead-crazy-girlfriend dustbin: Hans Bellmer’s lover, she committed suicide in 1970 after her mental health deteriorated. This exhibition, a selection of her experiments with automatic drawing, starts to set the record straight. Disembodied lips and eyes float within intense, sprawling dreamscapes, and make up larger faces and figures as well. Leftover space within the drawings’ boundaries is carefully filled in with abstract but methodical patterns of scallops, feathers, leaves, and fern-like tentacles. Splashes of color, and the contradiction between the bizarreness of Zürn’s creations and their apparently meticulous formulation, combine to give the works a fearful intensity. In a drawing from 1965 (all works untitled), Zürn flips the script so that the outlines are in white gouache on black paper. Another drawing, from 1967, contains no discernible patterns: instead, a thinly scrawled wisp starts in the middle of the paper and billows out into the right-hand corner like a contained but ominous threat. Whilst the selection of works might have been better edited, the show makes the recent fad for drawing in New York City look pathetically weak in comparison, as well as doing its bit to extricate Zürn from the dread dustbin.