Monday, May 04, 2009

Unica Zürn Artforum Critic's Pick

Unica Zürn: Dark Spring is a Lauren O'Neill-Butler Critic's Pick at

Unica Zürn


35 Wooster Street
April 17–July 23

The black-and-white photographs of Unica Zürn’s body—bound by string, coiled, and reduced to a sack of bulbous flesh—are some of Hans Bellmer’s most admired works and, until recently, her mere cameo in art history’s canon. As a remedial course, perhaps, this elegant show offers a bounty of Zürn’s automatic drawings, a few shimmering paintings, and some brilliant pieces of her writing (for which she is most regarded). Although it reprises themes set forth in Ubu Gallery’s similar 2005 show, the Drawing Center exhibition thoughtfully and tenderly examines her short career and mental illness without didactically trying to “rediscover” her and without mythologizing her suicide at age fifty-four or her interest in sadomasochism. The tranquil sea-blue walls and the thick black frames here temper the hotness of these issues, and so do the sweet, nearly oceanic and biomorphic forms in her finely detailed renderings. These creatures hover at the center of her pages, bearing multiple countenances, breasts, limbs, and orifices, though, unlike a Bellmer "Poupeé," rarely do Zürn’s striations recall actual bodies. Instead, forty-nine mostly untitled works here offer roving, repetitive deviations: delicate lines, smudged ink, and twisting spirals appear as faces, then just shapes, and finally as faces, again, through an echolike effect. Intense and otherworldly, they offer a window into a mind that contemporary artists––particularly those invested in psychedelic motifs––should investigate. For some, her work might feel like the sun against their eyes; for others, a beacon in the distance.