New York

Arghavan Khosravi, Patiently Waiting, 2021, acrylic and cement on cotton canvas wrapped over wood panel, wood cutout, polyester rope, 53 1⁄2 × 58 1⁄8 × 12".

Arghavan Khosravi, Patiently Waiting, 2021, acrylic and cement on cotton canvas wrapped over wood panel, wood cutout, polyester rope, 53 1⁄2 × 58 1⁄8 × 12".

Arghavan Khosravi

You could see the rocket through the glass door. In the surreal setting of Arghavan Khosravi’s The Suspension, 2020, a dark-haired woman bows beneath a pointed silver projectile. Hung directly across from the gallery’s entrance, the painting conjured an image that comported with the talking points of hawkish cable-news pundits looking to cast Iran as a militaristic and misogynist theocratic regime. Yet just as quickly as Khosravi advanced this threatening caricature of her homeland, she undermined it as well. A second glance revealed that the woman wears a magenta athleisure jumpsuit—a getup more appropriate to yoga than to prayer. Was this luxuriantly weird pictorial space, with its salmon-pink walls and silhouette of a prostrate man bulging out from a precipitously sloped floor, a site of metaphoric enclosure or a scene from an Equinox gym in midtown Manhattan?

The shaped-canvas constructions in Khosravi’s solo exhibition “In Between Places” shared a common motif: rectangular columns bearing tightly cropped close-ups of women, surrounded by additional panels adorned with quasi-allegorical symbols such as keys, chains, explosives, gates, and Band-Aids. For instance, in Patiently Waiting, 2021, the central column frames the side of a woman’s face, her cheeks softly rendered in the airbrushed tones of commercial illustration. Two conjoined panels jut out of the work’s upper-left corner, extending the face’s outline but switching colors, from a naturalistic beige to an electric neon orange. Lower down, a wood cutout affixed to the column’s side shows a hand stroking a bomb—the kind of fuse-laden, cast-iron ball that regularly detonates in cartoons of Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner. Farther back, a canvas shaped like a vaulted doorway shows a patch of spindly flowering bushes, depicted with the linear precision of botanical watercolors.

Khosravi’s abrupt shifts in style recall the free-floating neo-expressionist pastiche that theorists of postmodernism once heralded as the anything-goes end of history. But, pace Fredric Jameson, examples of willful heterogeneity go back much further than the late 1970s. Throughout “In Between Places,” Khosravi employed “stacked” perspective, a compositional technique common to the interconnected traditions of Persian and South Asian miniatures. Not only does stacked perspective construct illusionistic depth without a fixed vanishing point, it also abrogates Renaissance naturalism’s drive toward internal consistency, allowing for a collage-like effect that art historian Molly Emma Aitken has described as parataxis (a grammatical term referring to the placement of words or phrases side-by-side without conjunctions). Khosravi expands miniature painting’s paratactic capacities to encompass multiple styles, various material supports, and even ready-made objects, such as cords and nails. These aggregations are remarkably difficult to photograph, since a straight-ahead camera angle will obscure the relative depths of different panels and flatten three-dimensional elements into a seamless trompe l’oeil illusion. Recognizing the full complexity of Khosravi’s work thus requires a shifting point of view.

To screen-addled eyes, poring over scenes set within stacked perspective is somewhat akin to peering into the roofless houses in video games such as The Sims. Glimpses of a structure’s exterior and interior occupy the same picture plane, confusing distinctions between outside and inside, public and private. In Isn’t it time to celebrate your freedom?, 2021, a seated woman’s foot has been released from a manacle, yet she remains hemmed in by a shallow transparent pen. The work’s title wryly evokes the presumptions Khosravi has likely encountered since immigrating in 2015, both about how repressive her life in Iran must have been and about how liberating the United States must feel. Never mind that the previous US president kicked off his term by announcing a Muslim ban.