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Gilles Aillaud, Tuyau et porcs-épics (Pipe and Porcupines), 1976, oil on canvas, 57 1⁄2 × 44 7⁄8".

AT FIRST, it looks like an enormous beetle, this mysterious form mostly submerged in water. Two tubular ears, antennae-like, swivel in opposite directions, while the stump of an amputated horn rises above the preternaturally still pool. A rhinoceros. Stripped of narrative context and confined, like the picture as a whole, to the narrowest of chromatic ranges, the unblinking beast resides in a perpetual present, monumental and unyielding. The brushstrokes are opaque yet utterly devoid of painterly bravado: Drab brown and gray daubs denote a mottled hide; creamy strokes suggest ribs beneath the skin. A fringe of rivulets drips from a dorsal ridge, underscoring both the tactility of the fold and the armor-like impenetrability of the hide. At the waterline, however, there is a palpable shift. The compact density of the head and flank gives way to a ghostly, all but illegible undercarriage,

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