Camille Henrot

Cartoons in the New Yorker don’t change much over the years: nondescript figures, just as likely to be human as they are to be anthropomorphized animals, enact slight comedies of manners and modern faux pas, often frowned upon by their psychotherapists or colleagues off to the side. Light and humorous even when addressing political or difficult topics, these characters address the slight malaise and resentments that contemporary life leaves anxiously unresolved.

Transcending the weekly’s grayscale palette and passive-aggressive politesse, Camille Henrot’s first exhibition at Metro Pictures begins with a foyer circled with mounted telephones, each one unique but united in their nouveau riche ’80s aesthetic, with extended ovals and angular details in electric pastels, as if picked from a Bang & Olufsen catalogue geared toward teenage girls. Each phone delivers a psychiatric intervention, whether in the form of a little video on the base’s screen, with audio on the receiver, or a direct line of questioning from the other end of the line; hotline options include “Enough is Enough” and “Bad Dad & Beyond.”

Next, a cupcake-batter-yellow room is lined with figurative, gestural, spare paintings of animals in absurd situations, seemingly unaware of each other when not attacking one another. Retreating several decades in display, the next room, pitch black, holds a zoetrope, a spinning, multi-tiered layer cake of slithering and swimming cigarettes, body builders lifting and resting weights, maidens bowing in angst then gathering themselves together again, and lotion squirting out of tubes.

Taken together, these three chapters seem to progress from the artist’s earlier works, which surveyed the results of deep anthropological and sociological research. If these larger questions have been addressed, modern banalities and uneasy niceties should be easy fixes, but these stylized neuroses show an emotional terrain that leaves us exposed to dependency and deception — a terrain with no order or exit.

Flash Art, January–February 2016


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