New York

Caitlin Keogh, Repeating Autobiography, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 84 × 63".

Caitlin Keogh, Repeating Autobiography, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 84 × 63".

Caitlin Keogh

Bortolami Gallery

Caitlin Keogh, Repeating Autobiography, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 84 × 63".

Like that of many painters seeking to replicate the conditions of our hypernetworked moment—its recombinatory and citational visual culture, and the material disconnect between the depths of seemingly infinite information and the flat, hard reality of a screen—Caitlin Keogh’s methodology is something of an ahistorical exquisite corpse. Her work brings to mind a multitude of art-historical references: She appears to pull her sharp but voluptuous line from Jean Cocteau’s fashion illustrations from the 1930s; her dismembered figures from the dolls of Hans Bellmer and Cindy Sherman; and her flat, bold colors from the sign painting of James Rosenquist and John Baldessari. But Keogh seems to owe most to the Chicago Imagists—who brought awkward, seamy humor to a similar admixture of sign painting, commercial illustration, and surrealism—and in particular to painter Christina Ramberg. Like Ramberg, Keogh postures the severed hands and torsos of anonymous women against airless grounds. But Ramberg’s women are sadomasochistic, complicit in their own fragmentation: bound and warped by textiles and boned corsets. Moreover, they are textured and fierce. Keogh’s bodies, by contrast, seem helpless.

The result of Keogh’s art-historical bricolage is like psychoanalytic clip art in a palette of vintage Hermès. It is unclear, at first, how, precisely, she is updating the concerns of Ramberg or Sherman, aside from reminding us that, yes, despite the internet’s democratic promises, women’s bodies are still the site of projection and abuse of profound consequence. The work is as cheeky and seductive as the nod to Victorian fetishes in the title of the painter’s recent show of twelve new works at Bortolami: “Loose Ankles.” It is also morbid: The exhibition’s eponymous painting (all works 2016) pictures a hand, holding a cigarette, emerging from two feet in yellow pumps lopped off at the ankles and bound with rope. In the show’s two standout works, Wuthering Nephron and Renaissance Painting, female hormonal glands are rendered in the manicured style of William Morris’s naturalist wallpaper. In the latter work, an armor-like tunic becomes a sort of bust, and pink viscera are arranged to look like a psychedelic face—it’s Jim Nutt funny but aloofly pessimistic. In Keogh’s hands, abjection’s sliminess is softened to matte—its shade of Pepto-Bismol makes you think of chalky sweetness rather than shit. Even the parts of ourselves that we’d like to reject are neutered and commodified, mere decoration.

An uncharacteristically figureless painting, Repeating Autobiography pictures four copies of Christian Dior’s 1956 autobiography, Dior by Dior, falling the way an accordion unfurls. The book is also excerpted, in cursive handwriting, in four somewhat inscrutable works titled “Dior Fragments,” 2016, involving torn pieces of paper affixed to mirrors. In the prologue of his book, the designer of “flower women” speaks of two Christian Diors—the writer, who Dior explains is really his nine-year-old self, and the couturier of Maison Christian Dior, who was born in 1947, the year his first collection launched. That one’s second self is born with one’s public persona, or rather, with the commodification of one’s identity, is now a relatable concept: The versions of ourselves that we project online may differ significantly from those we present physically. In an essay on the Surrealist artist Unica Zürn, Luce Irigaray described a similar disjuncture—a space “between herself and herself” where a transformed symbolic order, or new terms of representation, might be created. Art, Irigaray argued, was a realm in which this transformation might take place, and women might produce their own morphology. It’s a logic that attends the way the internet has been theorized, too. Keogh’s work, in all its unsettling poppiness, signifies a bleaker stance: This space between herself and herself is so thoroughly permeated by the exploitative interests of capitalism that any new terms will be swiftly recuperated.

Annie Godfrey Larmon