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Review: Cecily Brown's paintings do not disturb

September 26, 2013|By Leah Ollman
  • Cecily Brown's "Untitled (The Beautiful and the Damned)." Cecily Brown. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.
Cecily Brown's "Untitled (The Beautiful and the Damned)."… (Photography by Robert McKeever )

Cecily Brown seems as though she's belting it out in her large, athletically brushed paintings now at Gagosian. But instead of powerful and passionate, her voice comes across as detached. The volume is turned up, but the verve is on low.

London-born and living in New York, Brown bases several of her recent paintings on a photograph of a large group of nude women that appeared on the British release of a 1968 Jimi Hendrix album.

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Brown preserves the odd theatricality of the image, with all members of the ensemble facing us, seated or in semi-seductive forward leans. Whatever sexual charge might be expected from such a scene gets sublimated into thrashing, jabbing, slathering brushstrokes. Bodies feel disembodied, the psyche ignored altogether.

Brown moves paint around with vigor, but there is surprisingly little friction, either on the surface or in what it represents. Even the mainstage couple in "The Quarrel II" seems to be dancing rather than fighting. Brown quotes often from Degas, and some of the mask-like faces in the crowd echo Ensor's feverish carnivalesque, but weighty footnotes can't make up for a thin text.

The paintings promise a kind of commotion and disturbance that they ultimately don't deliver.

Gagosian Gallery, 456 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9400, through Oct. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.gagosian.com

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