View of “Jana Euler,” 2015–16.

View of “Jana Euler,” 2015–16.

Jana Euler

View of “Jana Euler,” 2015–16.

The leadoff painting in Jana Euler’s exhibition “‘Female Jesus Crying in Public’ in einer neuen Ausstellung” (in a New Exhibition) was an overture in the operatic sense, containing all of the show’s themes in miniature: Frankfurt (all works 2015) describes the glittering skyline of the German banking capital, which is home to many collectors as well as art institutions including the Städelschule, where Euler studied, and its affiliated Portikus gallery, where, when this show went up, she was simultaneously exhibiting. The image, though, has been inverted—the city’s rising phallic skyscrapers now dangle downward—in an explicit reference to Georg Baselitz, now infamous for claiming that women are lesser painters than men and fail “the market test.” If one read the ensuing show clockwise, the last of twelve paintings was a dizzying close-up of a penile screw thread, bluntly titled In the perspective of the screwed 2—though, as you keep looking, that perspective oscillates queasily: the center might be the closest point or the farthest away—and seemingly commenting on art-world inequality via a nod to Lee Lozano’s 1963–64 tool paintings. Euler, in thematic terms, is not here to fuck around.

Indeed, her dealings with inequity can verge on the illustrative, or at least the strongly directive, even if she approaches the subject from many angles. The paired Cockpit and Kabine respectively show an airplane’s empty flight deck and, from a position in economy, passenger seating—the former suggesting control, the latter passivity—while, for accentuation, three rows of budget airplane seating (blue, the color unifying many of these works) had been plunked down in the middle of the gallery—fitted with wheels, they allowed viewers to choose their own viewpoints. Further symbolic redress arrived with Female Jesus Crying in Public, the show’s dense and vivid centerpiece. Euler equivocally gender-flips, or gender-doubles, Christ: The figure resembles the artist, the crossed legs (of which there are four) may cover male genitals, and the fists are huge and threatening. Her crucifix, loosely recalling in its micro/macro format the work of Thomas Bayrle, takes the form of another skyscraper, in whose windows are figures who literally support the pained savior and who, according to the gallery press release (though it’s hard to confirm), “all cry as a group.”

For Euler, male artists are licensed to parade their sufferings, encouraged by empathetic devotees, a chorus of criers: Here the reverse is true. In another insistent turnaround, she resists the kind of stylism (for instance turning your canvas upside down) that carried her male counterparts to market. There is some Neue Sachlichkeit in Euler’s handling, certainly, but it’s routinely militated: See Untitled, with its gaudy pink-and-yellow sunset palette, tacky impasto, and deliberately disagreeable, teenage-bedroom vibe. Its recorder-playing figure, meanwhile, is effectively feminine—blond tresses laced with flowers, silky chemise—aside from the neatly trimmed, Conchita Wurst–style beard. Edit that out, Euler seems to suggest, and here is merely a girlish woman earnestly playing music. Leave it, and we have a leader, a Pied Piper.

In the silky surfaces of the airbrushed ink drawings Universe 1, 2, and 3, which offer a stark contrast to the forceful painting styles Euler essays elsewhere, starry constellations—astrology, chance, fate—reveal themselves as abstracted bodies condensed to limbs and sex organs. An arm-reaching-over-the-head gesture recalls Euler’s self-portrait Untitled, 2008, which in turn references an aptitude test formerly given to German schoolchildren. And within the pinballing nodal system that she constructs here, it’s her self-portrait as a schoolgirl that serves as the sideswiping emotional linchpin, an indicting evocation of naïveté. In Jeune fille, ein Selbsportrait (Young Girl, A Self-Portrait), the dimple-cheeked and smiling Euler has seemingly no awareness of the world she’s involuntarily entered, how stacked is its deck. By now—so the rest of the show elucidated, offering you a cheap seat for the performance—she knows all too well.

Martin Herbert