Anika Wilson A Question of Beauty
February 7 - April 6, 2008
For Anika Wilson’s solo painting show, A Question of Beauty, Gallery QB posted only one picture on its website—the artist’s acrylic on canvas, “Pink.” In this painting, nearly twenty nude female bodies, each with two heads, are clustered in the top right corner as if in motion, their white bodies falling onto the pink surface from an unseen sky. The pairs of heads, rather than looking inward towards one another, look outward in opposite directions, with their chins tilted slightly up. The painting intrigued me and drew me to the gallery.
“Pink” got me thinking about my own identity as a woman—what I’m standing around waiting for and whether I’m as divided, as exposed as these women are. Most of all, it got me wondering if I’m even aware of the outside forces silently shaping my existence. Perhaps I’m one of the women in the painting, and I don’t even realize it.
For a piece in a first-ever solo painting show, that’s pretty damn good. Happily, too, a number of other works in the show are equally strong, namely the six that feature a common motif of what can be described as beaded tentacles. These paintings are variations on a theme: lakes of violet, red, teal, and grey blot out the real world and replace it with dream spaces in which linear, black-and-white figures encounter curling tentacles that sweep in from the side. The tentacles’ inexplicable appearance and power underscore both the bigness of life and its unpredictability.
Unfortunately, the last four paintings in the exhibition fail to excite the imagination in the same way. Each work features a set of conjoined twins either content to be linked or struggling to break apart. While the theme of twins potentially raises some interesting questions about identity and individuality, Wilson fails here to create the oddly appealing spaces that give life to her other works. Much of this stems from a change in backgrounds; foregoing solid, escapist expanses of color, she instead paints patterns—yellow flower petals or multi-colored bubbles. These patterns feel mostly decorative and trite, undermining whatever contemplative quality the works might convey.
What’s more, in the tentacle paintings, Wilson creates a set of thought-provoking scenes that play against each other. The twins paintings do not cohere as a group and fall flat from an overall dearth of action and emotion. Even in a work like “Siamese (Yellow Petals),” which depicts a pair’s futile struggle to be free of one another, the characters’ faces reveal minimal emotion. This painting, like the others, suffers from a lack of subtext and a hope of getting by on its surface merits. Its surface, unfortunately, cannot carry it alone.
It seems pertinent to note that Gallery QB is a very strange place to view art. Because it focuses on furniture and design as well as art, the gallery is filled with coffee tables and nice chairs. I found myself standing in a space that felt more like a furniture store or a rich person’s living room than an art gallery, and I had to work very hard to concentrate on the paintings and resist the urge to lie on a couch. Of course, I suspect that if the art on the walls were strong enough, it would not suffer an upstaging at the hands of some futons. I also suspect that if Wilson’s work were on view in an otherwise empty gallery, it might feel slightly more cohesive. Unfortunately, neither of these is the case, but since both the gallery and the artist are newcomers to the New York art scene, I’m interested to see where their next steps will be.
JILLIAN STEINHAUER writes about art and culture, lives in Brooklyn, and is pursuing a master's degree in Cultural Reporting and Criticism at NYU (firstname.lastname@example.org).