New York

Corentin Grossmann, Jeux de femmes (Women’s Games), 2018, graphite, colored pencil, and airbrush on paper, 41 1⁄2 × 63".

Corentin Grossmann, Jeux de femmes (Women’s Games), 2018, graphite, colored pencil, and airbrush on paper, 41 1⁄2 × 63".

Corentin Grossmann

The graphite drawing The main gate, 2017, welcomed visitors to Corentin Grossmann’s first US exhibition with an architectural fabulation of elephantine columns, ball-shaped ornaments, and massive vaults enclosing depthless shadows. As the title suggested, we were looking at a threshold between two places. Behind the titular structure, the tops of palm trees were silhouetted against the sky, placing us in the tropics. In front was the nebulous gray void of our immediate foreground. The hazy gray scale, flat tonality and grainy surface texture of the drawing unsettled the exoticism of the scenery by creating a sense of disorientation and distance. Were we in a courtyard in some mythical city, looking out at the jungle beyond, or were we outside the gate, looking into a walled garden?

Grossmann, who was born in 1980 in the northeastern French city of Metz and now lives in Brussels, makes oneiric landscapes and erotic figure drawings with graphite, colored pencil, and occasionally airbrush. “Archetypal representations, icons, or popular imagery will be derailed, contaminated by a personal writing mode,” the artist explains. Often, derailment and contamination are achieved though manipulations of scale. The big red gas bombs of Verdun, 2017, releasing fat plumes of multicolored poison, dominated a scorched battleground, while A world of breads, 2017, features mounds of dinner rolls swelling up from green and purple grasslands. In the fairy tale–like Le sanctuaire (The Sanctuary), 2018, a mischief of rats gnawed on corncobs in a clearing littered with nuts and cheese. Either these critters are very large or their world is very small, as the rodent-size houses, phallic cacti, and brain-like rock formations depicted in the work are hemmed in by power lines located on the horizon. Le sanctuaire seems to illustrate a fable that has forgotten its moral lesson, with its scenes of gluttony and dissipation reconfigured as charming incidents. One might have thought of Bosch without the structuring ideology of Catholicism, or Dalí without Freud.

In Jeux de femmes (Women’s Games), 2018, two young, seminude females engaged in yogic sex play in a rocky landscape dotted with succulents and palms. The pair’s dishabille and light-brown skin and the surrounding vegetation suggest imagery left over from another debased modernist cult: that of “the primitive” as a fount of erotic and spiritual regeneration. As with The main gate, we seemed to arrive at another murky border, this time between an unreconstructed fantasy and a critical safety zone.

Still, wherever they were, it wasn’t Gauguin’s Tahiti. The flora in the foreground quickly yields to grim terrain that—if not for the familiar crescent in the smoggy sky overhead—could easily read as the moon’s surface. Saturn descends and hovers low above the rocks. Ribbons of lava and the serpentine rings of another fallen planet cordon off the women from the viewer. Grossmann’s airbrush gives their flesh a perversely smooth finish, buffing out the traces of traditional artistic craft. The woman on the left—naked except for white thigh-high stockings and earrings—lies faceup on the ground, her knees folded into her chest. The woman on the right, clad in a string-bikini bottom, earrings, and a necklace, holds her partner’s calves and gazes between her spread thighs, watching calmly as she expels a jet of air from her vagina. The effervescent flatulence spurts above the horizon and into the moonlight, providing a burst of activity in an otherwise chillingly still picture. The queef is a deflationary device, gazing straight into taboo and letting the air out of it.

Chloe Wyma