Wangechi Mutu’s enchanted forest

Wangechi Mutu, “Sprout,” 2010, mixed media ink, paint, collage on Mylar; 54 x 51″
Wangechi Mutu, “Oh, Madonna!,” 2010, mixed media ink, paint, collage on Mylar; 91 1/2 x 54″
 Installation view.
Wangechi Mutu, Detail, “Moth Girls,” 2010, mixed media porcelain, leather, paint feathers and chalk; 14 feet 5″ by 23′ 7″ by 21’10” installed

Anne Wehr reports in Time Out New York that Wangechi Mutu’s collages, which are at Gladstone through Dec. 4, seem ill-conceived and somewhat opportunistic. “Hunt and bury? Sure. But flee? That seems an unlikely prospect for the beleaguered female dynamos in Wangechi Mutu�s latest large-scale collages, gloriously encumbered by decorative encrustation, contact-paper patterning, and glossy cutouts from fashion, porn and National Geographic magazines. For her first Gladstone Gallery show, this Kenyan-born artist continues to create dense, arresting art that takes on modern beauty myths and popular depictions of non-Western cultures. In ‘Oh Madonna!,’ a Josephine Baker�like creature sporting ostrich feathers and a bare breast conjures the West�s historic fascination with ‘Le Noble Sauvage’ exoticism, while her kaleidoscopic bod tells a more contemporary tale: With knees made of artillery pieces and stacked cans of crude for high heels, oilmongering geopolitics insinuate themselves in her very contours.

“Too bad Mutu�s work has increasingly come to resemble exactly what she aims to critique…. Yet the thread of violence (along with a certain visual monotony) that connects Mutu�s work seems opportunistic, even misogynistic, especially in visually simpler works like ‘Sprout,’ an inverted Daphne buried up to her elbows in scorched earth. Mutu�s saving grace is her ability to elicit seductive, alchemical effects with paint on Mylar. Her jewel-toned, marbleized renderings of mottled flesh, textured with hair and fishnet patterns, ground her compositions and, one hopes, will be good fodder for whatever comes next.”

In the NY Times, Karen Rosenberg writes that Wangechi Mutu is one of the most exciting artists working in collage today, but that the same can�t be said of her storytelling and her sculptural installations, included in the show. “Tree stumps made from felt bunched over cardboard boxes and anchored with packing tape are clearly meant to extend the enchanted-forest theme but look like dull set design. And in the rear gallery, the installation ‘Moth Girls’ � figurines with porcelain legs and wings of leather and feathers, affixed to the wall in neat rows � is a curio cabinet of disappointing sameness. Why Ms. Mutu would want to experiment with seriality and uniformity when her collages relish the subjective and unique is anyone�s guess.”

“Wangechi Mutu: Hunt Bury Flee,”  Gladstone Gallery, New York, NY. Through Dec. 4, 2010.

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