New York

Lila de Magalhaes, Bubble, 2022, glazed ceramic, 21 × 16 × 16".

Lila de Magalhaes, Bubble, 2022, glazed ceramic, 21 × 16 × 16".

Lila de Magalhaes

“Sweat in spandex, hints of oak moss,” “a burning palo santo stick stuck in marzipan,” “opopanax, period blood”—such were the outré fragrances the Instagram hive mind ventured to guess were contained in Lila de Magalhaes’s bottles for imaginary perfumes. Teeming with perverse anthropomorphisms and gleeful conjugations of sex and kitsch, these oversize, exuberant clay vessels formed the centerpiece of “Involuntary Earthling,” the Brazilian-born, Los Angeles–based artist’s second solo outing at Deli Gallery. A voluptuous reclining nude was anointed with ambrosial goop on the surface of Miel de amor (Honey of Love) (all works 2022), while a weeping sun trimmed one of its rays with barber’s scissors in Poco cielo (Little Heaven). A naked girl snuggled an Amazon River dolphin in Bubble, as another young woman mounted a celestial body cowgirl style in the punny Star Fucker. A cluster of writhing anthropophagic worms graced Planet Blood; the motif was repeated in the show’s namesake series of modular ceramic tiles, which the artist made during a residency at Cerámica Suro in Guadalajara, Mexico, and which she encrusted with various ropy tentacular forms.

Worms were a persistent, squirmy presence throughout the show, at once inviting and deflecting Freudian associations (de Magalhaes, it so happens, participated in a 2016 group show at the Freud Museum London, installing a plastic bag filled with water and clay mermaids above the Doktor’s hallowed study). At Deli, a ceramic relief titled Interior (The wonders of epsom salt) depicted a woman bathing in a tub surrounded by various annelid companions: One peeks out from a toilet bowl as another gazes into a mirror in a body-swapping reversal of Interior (Dysmorphia is a pretty name), in which a bare-breasted girl scrutinized her invertebrate likeness at a vanity appointed with sundry lipsticks, powders, and perfumes. Elsewhere, the young protagonist of Interior (Only Child) got tucked into bed with two creepy-crawly playmates in a bedroom reminiscent of Matisse’s Red Studio, 1911. That painting’s depth-obliterating field of vermilion and etched hints of perspective, as translated by the artist here, are augmented by whimsical protuberances burbling into three-dimensional space. Jakob Streit’s 1981 children’s book Puck der Zwerg (Puck the Gnome) and other titles by Stephen King and Rudolf Steiner were scattered around the floor, and delightfully floppy, grinning celestial bodies entered from the window above: a meeting of chthonic and heavenly entities that forms the thematic crux of the show.

Dancing stars descended from the firmament and Lindy Hopped on the back of a weeping nude woman in Ride Home, one of a handful of embroidered works in the exhibition. Sewn on chintzy patterned sheets overdyed in Pepto pink, faded indigo, and acrid green, then embellished with chalk pastel, they conjured a tween bedroom aesthetic while simultaneously indexing the site of dreams and sexuality. Both were in abundance in Litha, a work that takes its title from a pagan celebration of the summer solstice and that features a redheaded maenad and a green grasshopper in flagrante delicto_ on a giant sunflower. Tossed backward in spasmodic abandon, the _lady’s chalice spills its inebriating contents, fueling an orgy of wine-drunk critters in the lagoon below.

A gleefully demented approach to form and facture distinguishes de Magalhaes’s work from much of the reheated narrative Surrealism currently à la mode. Impish effervescent humor prevails over portentous symbolism, sticky sweet materiality over cool finish. In another of the artist’s embroideries—a freaky fractured fairy tale titled Lunch Date—a very hungry caterpillar and dick-nosed little girl chowed down on a grimacing helianthus, the picture’s horror vacui surface swarming with interpenetrated eruciform and botanical species. Here, de Magalhaes served the pièce de résistance of “Involuntary Earthling”: in her own words, a “wiggling garden salad” of earthly delights.