“Genius” includes a cycle of latest work that pry open the idea’s complicated tangle of reward and consequence, fetish and obsession. An totally subjective time period that also lands with the thud of authority, “genius” grants huge cachet and might license dangerous habits. In her fascination with that standing, Sophie von Hellermann is deeply skeptical of its dated, typically masculinist tropes: the prodigy, the auteur, the sensible eccentric, the tortured artist pacing the studio. But she stays intrigued by its superlative promise—the spark that fuels creation. Drawing on literature, historical past, folklore, and private rumination, von Hellermann paints archetypes (and anti-heroes) that iterate on genius and its diversified implications.
The works on view are organized in graduated order of dimension, an implicit development. They vary from a diminutive scene of a lighted match, the primary flash of inspiration, to the biggest canvas depicting a Mahler-like feminine maestro, extra orchestral in proportion. Von Hellermann ties this scalar enhance to the Romantic ultimate of genius attained by means of self-improvement; although it additionally means that the parable of genius has its personal propulsive momentum—and, maybe, that these favored few get to take up extra space than the remainder of us.
Linking genius to benefit, von Hellerman paints each distinctive figures (Jane Austen, Cézanne by means of his Card Gamers) and feats of human power (a vaulter who retains tempo with a galloping horse, chasing down an elusive prize). However alongside narratives of genius-as-mastery are these of possession—succumbing to forces past oneself, a conduit for his or her powers. Gods or muses writhe round a neon colonnade, indicators of that divine intervention; elsewhere a long-limbed angel (or demon) can carry mere mortals to these lofty heights. Von Hellermann’s assassin’s row of excellence can also be tempered by the opposite excessive—the curse that may accompany the genius moniker, within the mad need to realize. Younger Werther is right here together with his Sturm und Drang, depicted simply earlier than his suicide, and Prometheus is eternally chained to his rock, punished for the surplus of his striving.
Included amongst these narrative vignettes are large-scale work of enjoying playing cards, typically containing double portraits that present two sides of the identical persona. Our most cherished, cussed notions of greatness maintain that it’s innate or by some means ordained, however von Hellermann’s playing cards suggest that the function of probability could also be simply as potent. The hand we’re dealt in life can decide if genius is realized, or whether it is acknowledged as such.
A number of works additionally function maritime metaphors or aquatic imagery, themes that satisfyingly mirror the artist’s personal distinctive fashion. A face friends up from a whirlpool, a fishing lure poised to seize what slips beneath the floor, rendered in eddies of thinned paint utilized, wet-on-wet, to unprimed canvas. A surfer rides a towering wave in full command of nature’s power, and von Hellermann has described paint in comparable phrases: as an unpredictable, liquid medium that should be harnessed. The wispy, virtually comedian exuberance of her contact can defang the clichés of genius, however her fluid depictions are in the end celebratory—painted in reward of what she calls “the genius in all of us.”
at Greene Naftali, New York
till July 28, 2023