Each Friday, our writers review a few choice (New York) gallery openings from the night before. 

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Robin F. Williams, Bag Lady, 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas, 58 x 40 inches

by Elinor Case-Pethica, Staff writer

Group Show, “The Woman Destroyed” at P.P.O.W Gallery

The Woman Destroyed opened this Thursday at P.P.O.W Gallery, featuring the work of Elizabeth Glaessner, Lauren Kelley, David Mramor, Allison Schulnik, Jessica Stoller and Robin F. Williams. Like the Simone de Beauvoir book from which it takes its name, The Woman Destroyed investigates womanhood through experiences of crisis. The resulting show is visually cohesive, and the individual works of the artists exhibited are for the most part quite strong.

Shulnik’s large and heavily impasto’ed Centaurette In Forest opens the show, displayed on the most prominent wall despite being her only piece shown. A series of petite porcelain sculptures by Jessica Stoller dexterously address issues of femininity through the lens of the grotesque. The two artists together provide a much-needed tone of irony and confrontation necessary for a feminist show. Bright, gritty paintings bring an element of the sublime to the group through the work of Robin F. Williams; her palette is psychedelic, with images displaying women in strange situations that seem taken from a dream or hallucination.

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David Mramor, Venus #4, 2014, acrylic paint and archival inkjet on canvas, 29 ¾ x 20 inches

David Mramor is an interesting addition to the group. Formally, his Venus series draws heavily on Gerhart Richter’s series of overpainted photographs, as well as his technique of using blurred photographic source material. Mramor prints his photographs onto canvas using an inkjet printer and then applies paint on top of them to partially obscure the image, to reference fading and constructed memory. As the only male artist in a powerfully female show, Mramor’s work must unavoidably be viewed under a different light than the accompanying pieces—and the fact that the woman portrayed in the images is his late mother invites us to consider freudian interpretations.

The artists deal with this relationship between women and crisis in different ways; Kelley with a narrative of strength told through animation, Glaessner and Williams with a surreal and an almost evasive psychological approach. Stoller, with droll and sardonic comedy in the face of tragedy. A close look at Mramor’s pieces makes us question whether we should hold the artist, or perhaps even ourselves as the viewer, accountable.

In everything from the title to the works of art and artists included, the show’s message about femininity is elusive. The often didactic nature of feminist artwork can be off-putting, to even the staunchest of feminists. Where this show succeeds is in its rejection of one uniform response to crisis or single interpretation of female identity.

Other Notable Shows

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Margot Bergman, Grace Jane, 2012, acrylic on found canvas, 24 x 18 inches

Margot Bergman and Brian Calvin at Anton Kern Gallery

Bergman’s “Double Portraits” are, in a word, fun. Her process involves “rescuing” paintings from flea markets and tag sales, then painting over them, still allowing some of the original image to show through. Her love of paint and unfussy style are well matched by Brian Calvin’s somber and psychological portrayals of none other than Popeye the cartoon sailor, in a style reminiscent of Philip Guston’s self portraits.

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Zhang Gong, The Watcher No. 1, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 57 1/8 x 44 1/8 inches

Zahng Gong “The Watcher” at Klein Sun Gallery

Gong’s background in animation is evident in his paintings. “The Watcher” is populated by familiar cartoon figures and icons, mixed together from various sources and re-imagined in a muted and foggy palette. The artist’s use of the grid to structure his cartoon subjects creates a surprisingly effective juxtaposition between highbrow self-serious elements of art history and accessible, lowbrow imagery.