Critics’ Picks

Vanessa Baird, Prednisolon, 2006, watercolor on gouache paper, 95 x 62".

Vanessa Baird, Prednisolon, 2006, watercolor on gouache paper, 95 x 62".


Vanessa Baird

Göteborgs Konstmuseum
May 28–August 31, 2014

Many of the thirty-five watercolors in Oslo-based Vanessa Baird’s latest exhibition are titled after classic and contemporary literature—texts by author and fellow Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgård as well as folktales. The images render a disturbing if droll vision of troubled characters in places spanning from fairy-tale scenes to present-day Oslo. Created between 2006 and 2014, some of the watercolors reference a major public commission of Baird’s, which caused controversy as it subtly referenced the 2011 terrorist attacks, the deadliest on Norwegian soil since WWII. In one work on view in this show, an image of the bombed-out government center is juxtaposed with depictions of an elementary school and of the city’s most infamous hot-dog vendor at his cart and other buildings.

The light in the gallery is soft throughout, and the space is painted in a muted gray. This environment markedly contrasts with the burning, bleeding hands and feet of the characters depicted within the frames, their orifices (both natural and inflicted) exposed, erect penises galore. Like oversized pages from a sketchbook, some large-scale works, such as Prednisolon, 2006, are composed according to a wallpaper logic. The pictorial elements of each work possess no illusion of space or depth; instead, the houses, flowers, and unhappy bodies are simply visually listed, distributed to form an offbeat pattern.