New York

View of “Rosemarie Trockel,” 2013.

View of “Rosemarie Trockel,” 2013.

Rosemarie Trockel

View of “Rosemarie Trockel,” 2013.

Rosemarie Trockel’s exhibition at Gladstone Gallery appeared to encompass three distinct bodies of work: twenty-eight striped or monochrome “wool paintings”; six wall-based sculptures of meat cast in Acrystal and mounted on pieces of Perspex; and two pieces of furniture, including a long, modernist sofa made, cushions and all, from cast steel. Yet in spite of their apparent heterogeneity, these pieces were, in fact, closely interconnected: All engaged a slippery dialectic of aspiration and deprivation.

Copy Me, 2013, the steel sofa, was draped with a thin plastic sheet, which both framed the object and trapped it, as if under glass. The title of the work was not quite a pun nor a suggestion to the viewer: Trockel is well known for reproducing earlier works, and this particular piece is modeled on a 2010 sofa also titled Copy Me, which was itself based on a 1954 design by Florence Knoll. (Trockel also produced a variant in 2011, titled Replace Me). For this version, one end of the couch was left free of plastic; from afar, the bare steel cushions looked convincingly like velvet. I noticed several viewers attempting to verify the work’s material—wiping a finger across it, taking a seat—but the rough, Serra-esque rust denied velvet’s supple, luxurious touch as well as its indexical trace. In another room, Trockel’s positively engrossing meat pieces also engaged the tactile. Although the trio of whitewashed rib-cage sections in Three Free Wishes, 2013, are Acrystal casts, they appear to be made from ceramic; one imagines the slippery feeling of wet clay pressed between one’s fingers.

Several of Trockel’s “wool paintings” were gathered in a third room, some framed by sheets of Plexiglas nearly a quarter-inch thick. The material, physically stronger than Copy Me’s plastic sheet, had the same effect of sanitizing the underlying object. The Plexiglas also alludes to museum display, granting the wool textiles the aura of history and consequence. Moreover, it defiantly obscures texture, produces a tacky gloss, and demands that the viewer consider his or her own reflection and location in the space. There is always something of the onlooker in these paintings.

In deploying “protective” coverings such as Plexiglas and plastic, the artist may be proffering a subtle critique of the ways in which critics at times subject her work to overly simplistic, indeed sanitizing, interpretations. One critic of this show, for instance, argued that Copy Me “scores some feminist points” but is in the end “save[d] from being an ideological one-liner,” a take that brings to mind reductionist—essentialist, even—interpretations of the feminism at stake in Trockel’s celebrated machine-knit wool paintings from the 1980s and early ’90s. For her part, Trockel has prompted critics to move beyond pat elucidations: The press release for her 2010 Kunsthalle Zürich show, for instance, notes that she “outwits feminist platitudes” and “distances herself from systems that impose both social and sexual identity and gender-related constraints.” Here, Trockel gave us something that seems ever more quickly reproducible, untouchable, and drained of exuberance. If these new pieces are postfeminist, they trail a movement that never achieved its social, political, and economic goals. So perhaps it makes sense that they come off as depressed and repressed, as if they’ve hit a glass ceiling.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler