Jonathan Gardner chosen as a Critic’s Pick in Artforum
121 West 27th Street
September 8–October 22
The mirrors in Jonathan Gardner’s paintings elude faces. They’re clouded by gray light, like pools of mercury. For Gardner, making his solo New York debut here, surrealism happens in the background. Bather with Yellow Towel (all works 2016) shows a woman lifting her arm to reveal a snowflake of armpit hair—she’s bounded by a drop shadow, like some uncanny digital artifact. Gardner’s figures bend with plastic dexterity. The reader in Salmon Sofa strikes a chaste, Balthus-like pose, allowing patterns to vibrate around her: Blue lines cross a yellow field and clash against orange matchstick grooves. A vase of flowers sits nearby like a fat pink molar. Another nude woman reclines in Waves, her lower body curving over a divan’s flat surface. Is she touching her stomach out of anxiety or idleness?
Dark Mirror, with its isometric potted plant, brings to mind 1980s restaurant murals; it’s a trompe l’oeil playing the same tricks as a screen saver. The Model finds irony at Gardner’s expense: An artist obscured by Cousin It hair displays her latest canvas to her subject, whose legs bulge out impossibly. The painting within a painting is even more simplified and reduced than Gardner’s own forms; the model looks either satisfied or amused. A picture of a desert landscape, pinned by a copper moon, is visible in the distance. The faces in Gardner’s work could sometimes pass for René Magritte’s, but Gardner never implies a narrative, as the Belgian does in The Menaced Assassin, 1927—he only hints at secret jokes.
— Chris Randle