Elizabeth Glaessner: Four legs in a garden
37, Rue de Longvic, Dijon
February 4 through May 22, 2022
By JOSEPH NECHVATAL, May 2022
A day in Dijon to visit to the opening of a stimulating new museum—the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie et du Vin (International City of Gastronomy and Wine)—also allowed a visit to the venerable and highly considered Le Consortium (The Consortium Museum). Founded by Franck Gautherot and Xavier Douroux in 1977, Le Consortium’s collection of art is permanently exhibited on the top floor and includes more than 350 works. It also has space for four simultaneous museum solo shows and runs the valuable publishing house les presses du réel. The Sergej Jensen show, curated by Stéphanie Moisdon, the Nathaniel Mary Quinn show, curated by Éric Troncy, and the Tursic & Mille show Tenderness, curated by Irène Bony and again Éric Troncy, were all more or less interesting exhibitions. But Elizabeth Glaessner’s seven vibrantly colored symbolic paintings grouped as Four legs in a garden, engaged me the most.
Four legs in a garden—Glaessner’s first exhibition in a French institutional context—is hung luxuriously under Le Consortium’s vast 12-meter ceiling in their monumental White Box gallery. The show’s general similarity benefits from this grandeur and includes three new works of paths and party scenes that were created specifically for the exhibition site. Though some of the canvases are small, they all uses the electric hues of a Fauvist palette.
Glaessner’s interest in early-20th century symbolist and expressionist painters—Munch, Schiele, Kokoschka, Kirchner—is quite evident. But the role that referential menu plays in its intersection with her imaginary time and memory space—a place of gender choice—can be a limiting one, for the retro-naive performance value that one experiences when looking at her paintings runs up against a stylistic reflexive threshold. The obvious problem here is that little reflectivity on the fluid gender situation—as it exists today—can be offered through historic painterly instrumentality. The art history riffing muffles and blurs the poly-amorphous ideas in the work—and gives it little sense of conceptual urgency.
That is not to say that there is no sensual pleasure to be found. Four legs in a garden has a vibrant watercolor feel to it. But it can also verge on illustration; albeit a mysterious adult illustration that benefits from a surreal slim but juicy sexuality. Sex seems to be the narrative flow. Temptation Babies and Temptation with Baby (both 2021) suggest a moment in a secret story between two cartoonish tube figures. It is my feeling that the question of presence could have been a bit more open-ended in them by being less cartoonish and less art historically safe. Glaessner is known for creating “psychedelic” visions, but I don’t feel the electric buzz of such a connection. Rather, as with Tick Tock (2020), fluid associations with drinking too much more readily produce fallen and languid bodies in the imagination.
Ocean Halo (2022) is the best of her paintings here: a dialogic formation of hazy sexual subjectivity. It is a very cool chromatic composition, yet fields of intensity invoking the inchoate are felt. A sexual power is coursing through the center of the canvas that pushes her trans theme out into the room—expanding her inflections of an imagined sexual freedom.
In general, Glaessner works with a gleeful narrative modeling based on quasi-literary or pictorial synchronic propositions, but with precious little visual resistance. I mention this word resistance with caution, not seeking to evoke examples of useless failed revolutions that we have seen in the past, but to think through the problem of art today in the way that Walter Benjamin did with his focus on mechanical reproduction. Her work acts in a naive way from the point of view of Benjamin’s take on Surrealism and also from the point of view of current technology. Though fantasy based, her paintings sustain the instrumentality of illustration and so maintain unitary effects upon the configuration of our subjectivity. It is true her work gives us an expanded lexicon and a certain quality that involves us in imaginary duration, but what it ignores is that there has been a major change in our society that can be felt as fragmentation. The unified concept of our being, that had remained untouched for centuries, since the Greeks at least, is under certain scrutiny. Indeed, I think it always had several meanings that were being repressed.
Glaessner recognizes in her work that our society is moving increasingly into the sexual virtual—moving increasingly into a composite or cyborg condition. Perhaps she might next make an effort at speaking with paint beyond the accessible and begin speaking about cancellation, because in cancellation the very foundation of painted-thought is destabilized. WM
Joseph Nechvatal is an American artist currently living in Paris. His The Viral Tempest double LP has recently been released on Pentiments. His book Immersion Into Noise was recently published in a second edition by Open Humanities Press and Styling Sagaciousness: Oh Great No!, his new book of poetry, will be published by punctum books this Fall.view all articles from this author