New York

David Krippendorff

Massimo Audiello

Rita Hayworth’s star turn in Charles Vidor’s movie Gilda (1946) was decisive in establishing the actress as a Hollywood sex bomb. On July 1 of the same year, the United States exploded the fourth atomic bomb on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, a test designed to show the world that the country had a nuclear arsenal. The bomb was named Gilda and had Hayworth’s image painted on its surface. David Krippendorff takes this equation as a point of departure for paintings, drawings, and video that move adroitly through the linked terrains of social criticism and political dissent.

The movie Gilda, with its narrative stereotypes and cloying sets, is a perfect manifesto of American cultural colonialism in the wake of World War II, and Krippendorff uses it to map Hollywood’s role in glamorizing war and power, with their potent mix of the erotic and the political. In postwar Buenos Aires, where corruption and international plots are rife, Hayworth’s character bears witness to a collapse of feelings and values. In three paintings, each titled Mistake, 2004, and numbered 1 to 3, Krippendorff imbues Gilda with an aura that is both awesome and mysterious. In Mistake #1, he captures Hayworth in a frame from her performance of “Put the Blame on Mame,” when she reaches the apex of her seductiveness, stripping off her black satin gloves in one of the most sensual movie moments of all time. In Krippendorff ’s canvas the star’s black-and-white image is painted in negative. She appears less an image of sensuality and more a reincarnation of Kali, goddess of war and devastation. In #2, Hayworth hides her face in shame, her hands and gorgeous mane of hair becoming a shroud that covers her naked body. #3 captures her as she throws her head back, her face not yet in focus, just seconds before her full-screen debut. It is an elusive image: She is not fully present yet carries a veiled threat. The paintings are executed primarily in monochrome tones, with horizontal stripes of white or reddish paint across the bottom half of each canvas, like a photographic print marred during processing. Three small black-and-white paintings, Close-up #7, #8, and #9, all 2003, depicting details of furniture and decorations in lifeless rooms, are crossed by bluish horizontal lines, recalling the flicker of early television screens. This formal device distances the images from their referents and closes them off in a semiabstract realm via pictorial distortion that recalls the work of Gerhard Richter and David Salle.

Gilda appears twice more in nine meticulous pencil drawings of interiors stuffed with period luxury items. Lying on her bed in these airless rooms, she looks barely able to function, crushed by a suffocating display of wealth. The same scene is at the center of the twenty-minute video Sleeping Beauty, 2003. Oblivious to the outside world, Gilda moves almost imperceptibly while on two side panels bombs fall in slow motion. Here Krippendorff ties together all the elements implicit in his paintings and drawings, orchestrating a visual narrative that obliquely addresses the language of propaganda while also alluding to a Western society dominated by impotence, insecurity, and loss of meaning—what Spinoza called our “sad passions.” Arranged as an altarpiece-like triptych, the video combines hypnotic pacing with an intense painterly quality to form the centerpiece of the show. Its formal reference to the religious format addresses Hollywood’s (and Washington’s) creation of a war mythology for our time. And Gilda, her sensual spell matching the seductive power of glamorized ideology, becomes the perfect metaphor for a self-absorbed America, secluded but not protected from its demons.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.