Los Angeles

Lara Schnitger, Judith, 2019, fabric on canvas, 70 × 48".

Lara Schnitger, Judith, 2019, fabric on canvas, 70 × 48".

Lara Schnitger

Lara Schnitger’s solo exhibition at Grice Bench opened with Judith (all works cited 2019), a modestly scaled work of fabric on canvas portraying the titular figure with the severed head of Holofernes resting on a surface beneath her gently curved hands. Many male artists have tried to depict this same heroic, feminist scene. Notable among them is Caravaggio, whose Judith is shown wielding her blade against Holofernes’s neck, releasing a bright-red spray. Schnitger’s version comes closer to that of Gustav Klimt, whose sultry sophisticate defiantly meets the gaze of the beholder in the aftermath of her violent deed, one eye slightly more narrowed than the other, as if winking. Klimt is also recalled for his technique of encrusting paintings with ornamental motifs—in all of the works on view here, Schnitger dispensed with brushes and paint in favor of stitching and gluing together swatches of found textiles. Dominating the proceedings are gray-and-beige and red-and-pink checkerboard patterns, reminiscent of those humble cloth napkins found in Central European homes and family restaurants. Following the brutal act of beheading, it would appear that this Judith has also set the table around which to calmly ponder its upshot.

The gender politics of infusing art with “mere” decoration were thrown into sharp relief starting in the late 1960s—think of Melissa Meyer and Miriam Schapiro’s fam-ous 1978 tract on “femmage.” Practitioners of all genders now routinely identify as “artist-makers”; this designation no longer guarantees their banishment to a “minor history” and has been institutionalized across the country. Schnitger appears to be well aware that sewing, weaving, and quilting no longer point strictly to “women’s work,” and she is clearly interested in the histories and complexities of her materials, methods, and subjects. Her all-female cast is unmoored in time and place; these women, with their bobs and white-powdered faces, voluminous coats and often-exposed lingerie, travel between Weimar Republic nightclubs, the Kabuki stage, and spreads from ’80s street-culture magazine The Face, while nevertheless remaining utterly contemporary and undeniably stylish. Schnitger’s work is no way indebted to the domestic culture of “making do” celebrated by Meyer and Schapiro; her choices are precisely calibrated to invoke a lethal kind of glamour.

Cutting a diagonal swath across the two rooms of Grice Bench was White Widow, a “border wall” composed of stockings and chopsticks held in place by the gallery architecture. Hosiery and tableware came together to produce a repeating pattern of radiating lines that bore an acutely menacing resemblance to multipronged throwing-star knives. If this could be seen as a counterpoint to President Donald Trump’s folly of territorialism, it was a wall against the wall, an armed opposition. To one side, as though maintaining a vigil over the proceedings, was I’m Evil, a monstrous sculptural figure raised up on three legs. Riding the line between archaic totem and fashionably deconstructed mannequin, it bore stenciled across its front the titular phrase—a nonpuritanical taunt, the sort that a Sadeian heroine might issue, promising to outdo the perversity of patriarchy.