Critics’ Picks

Walid Raad, Epilogue II: The Constables, 2021, 7 pigmented ink-jet prints, overall: 6'9 1/2“ x 17'8 3/4”.

Walid Raad, Epilogue II: The Constables, 2021, 7 pigmented ink-jet prints, overall: 6'9 1/2“ x 17'8 3/4”.

New York

Walid Raad

Paula Cooper Gallery | 524 W 26th Street
524 W 26th Street
March 5–April 16, 2022

Walid Raad continues his sly and destabilizing interventions within the exhibition space at Paula Cooper Gallery. Via wall texts, the artist created fictional personages and histories to direct the viewer’s thinking about the various pieces on display, fundamentally shaping how the images will be read. As always, Raad reminds us that grand narratives are frequently subjective, and often veer more closely to fantasy or outright fabrication than we are willing to admit.

Epilogue II: The Constables, 2021, presents a suite of photographs depicting the backs of paintings that we are told were discovered behind a group of unidentified old-master canvases purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The work’s title and imagery suggest the cloud studies of English painter John Constable, whose surname is also the British word for a police officer. And the paintings’ visible stretcher bars call to mind the bars of a jail cell: a visual barricade that keeps the viewer at a remove. Raad’s wall text discusses this impediment to observation, claiming that “Abu Dhabi has forbidden anyone from looking at the paintings’ fronts” and has banned display of the objects entirely, only allowing these curious photos to be seen.

Symbols of imperial power and prestige are also examined in the pest-infested treasures of Epilogue: The Gold and Silver, 2021, featuring ten photos of elaborate goblets and animal figurines. A specific invertebrate gathers in numbers upon the surface of each antique ornamental object; ants crawl over a golden goat, while slugs encroach upon a tarnished swan. These aristocratic baubles are brought low, transformed into habitats for vermin.

The luminous video installation Comrade leader, comrade leader, how nice to see you, 2022, is one of the most powerful pieces here, as it turns giants of world politics—such as Yasser Arafat and Margaret Thatcher—into paper dolls (quite literally) who stand before projections of colossal waterfalls. Here, Raad humorously points out that even the largest and most important figures of history are nothing in the face of nature’s mighty, overwhelming powers.