Dark Christmas


Nicola Tyson, "Self-Portrait with Friend," 2011. Oil on canvas. 72" x 95". Courtesy Leo Koenig Inc.

Dark Christmas, at Leo Koenig, gives us an alternative view of the holiday—something like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas meets Caligula. Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” (1987) comes off looking greeting-card friendly­ when placed in the context of Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #122” (1983), a Mommy Dearest-looking, bleached-blonde, and slightly egg-noggy drenched self-portrait. Hans Bellmer’s photographs of broken toy dolls from the 1930s and ’40s add a poignant but creepy touch. Paul McCarthy’s “Hot Dog” (1974), a series of photographs of an early performance, is both fascinating and repulsive—though something from his Santa Claus series would have been a better fit. Of particular note in this lively grouping are several examples of outstanding painting, including Georg Baselitz’s seminal “The Big Night Down the Drain” (1962–63) and Nicola Tyson’s “Self-Portrait with Friend” (2011), a radiant double portrait in cheerful hues. The latter is reminiscent of Matisse’s “The Conversation” (1908–12), in which Matisse depicts his wife Amélie in a black and green housecoat, seated in a throne-like armchair, while he wears his signature striped pajamas. Tyson simplifies her background into two flat planes of color—yellow for the walls and blue for the ground. In an exhibition dominated by darkly-themed works, Tyson’s “Self-Portrait with Friend” is a welcome gift, indeed.