New York

Markus Schinwald

Yvon Lambert

Elegant, unsettling, and thoroughly persuasive, Markus Schinwald’s New York solo debut provided an overdue introduction to the versatile Austrian-born artist’s uncanny talent for lavishly evocative modes of détournement. Schooled in both theory and fashion design, Schinwald is fascinated with the potential and limitations of bodies, as physical objects and as metaphoric subjects. Despite its slightly bewildering disciplinary heterogeneity (his projects over the last decade, seen almost exclusively in Europe, have involved painting, photography, sculpture, film, video, installation, theater, dance, puppetry, and various combinations thereof), his practice does have a clear central intent: to fluster the distinctions between people and things, between the body and its surroundings, hybridizing and adulterating each with elements of the other and then teasing out the disquieting psychological effects that ensue.

Here at Lambert, Schinwald deployed his trademark interventions in both large- and small-scale contexts. The show was unprepossessing at first glance, built around a modest selection of reworked found oil paintings and a handful of sculptures constructed from furniture legs, all tastefully arrayed within the pristine gallery space designed by Richard Gluckman in collaboration with Thomas Zolli. But closer inspection revealed the fundamental deformations these superficially anodyne artifacts had endured under Schinwald’s attentions. The untitled sculptures (all works 2009), presented on strategically discordant plinths laminated with high-finish wood veneers like modernist stereo cabinetry, were anthropomorphized tangles of Chippendale cabrioles—alternately wriggling and lolling, they read like casualties of wayward butchering or some unspecified teratogenic mishap, as, for instance, in the representatively queasy evocation of both surplus limbs and animal carcasses in Untitled (legs) #15.

Just as he manages to identify latent signs of malevolence in these fragments of wholly unremarkable sitting-room decor, Schinwald also locates the potential for menace in the unlikely setting of classic portraiture. His paintings begin with appropriated oils of indeterminate provenance—competently painted if unremarkable canvases, probably eighteenth- or nineteenth-century—which he first has restored and then slyly deforms, typically through the addition of delicately rendered forms of cryptic prosthesis: Peculiar little bandages, slings, splints, braces, and other obscure, quasi-medical paraphernalia are insinuated into their otherwise calmly quotidian representational environments. Some of these curious additions, carefully painted by Schinwald and then seamlessly integrated into the compositions by his restorers, could potentially have some plausible curative function: the dressings that surround the eyes and mouth of Lulu, for instance (each of the paintings is titled with the first name of the “sitter”), the cloth pouch that swaddles the nose of Adam, or the vaguely orthodontic wires that loop over the ears and trail down the graceful neck of April. But the more far-out appurtenances—an odd bridle of sorts that’s been fitted to the nose and chin of Jan or the bubblelike disks attached to the face of Rose—are more in the register of fetishistic duress than therapeutic care, settling firmly on the other side of the line that all the works purposefully tread.

Ambitiously, Schinwald’s deformations did not stop at the level of the object: As in several recent shows, the artist extended his prosthetic impulse into the space itself, altering it by installing a series of mutant beams and pillars that crisscrossed the large room (and, in one case, served as a seat for the show’s only vaguely off-key outlier, a life-size marionette called Hans who regurgitates a poem on a strip of tape, recalling both Carolee Schneemann and yogic alimentary practice). Like Schinwald’s pictorial augmentations, these architectural supplements would seem to shore up a body that does not appear to need the help. Yet if they are in that sense functionless, they do manage subtly to perturb the settled environment into which they’ve been inserted. And it’s there in the turbulence between the familiar and the foreign that they, like their painterly analogues, find the space to stage their absorbingly subversive incursions.

Jeffrey Kastner