Situation Rooms, an exhibition of new work by Mernet Larsen, is currently on view at James Cohan Gallery’s Chelsea location through June 23. Throughout her sixty-year career, Larsen has developed a practice that tests the spatial conventions of narrative painting. Her works frequently center on the human form in space. In these representations, the visual touchstones of gravity, perspective, and proportion are toyed with, introducing suggestions of surrealism, which nonetheless submit to the quotidian scenes or scenarios that many of the images represent. In Situation Rooms, this combination of proportional abstraction and the everyday returns. In this exhibition, Larsen returns to a familiar subject of people sitting around tables. As Larsen explains, “I have always wanted to do a painting of an art department faculty meeting – having spent 35 years of my life attending them. But I couldn’t find a way to make it interesting… I didn’t want a collection of portraits, but a kind of psychological essence of particular moments in meetings.”
This essence of particular moments in meetings is rendered through the flattened, exaggerated and elongated human forms sitting around conference tables, captured striking familiar poses or in the midst of gestures that are at once uncanny and satirical. In Situation Room: Thinkers, a group of rectangular men in suits is represented sitting around a square table. The figure at the head of the table points with authority, while other figures rest their chins between finger and thumb pensively, or stare in the direction of the head of the table. In Cabinet Meeting (with Coffee), rounded figures are seated at a more circular table, clutching coffee cups and smiling vaguely, somehow perfectly conveying a moment of strained pleasantries. In the background, the lower half and hands of large and domineering figures in black suits are visible. The comedic effect of this series comes through particularly well in Situation Room (Scissors, Rock, Paper), which features a crowded rectangular table on which flattened, stern-looking individuals have laid their hands, engaged in a game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors.’ The sardonic title communicates a sense of fallacy that can be derived from the gravity and power associated with the space of the boardroom, for example.
Mernet Larsen, Situation Rooms (Installation View)
Yet Larsen’s works equally test the perception of space, as these images and depictions twist and twirl around the canvas’s center as if in a constant series of spinning and rotating moments. The act of meeting gets a distinctly spatial lampoon here, as if translating the bureaucratic form into a spatialize joke, the feeling of being off-center and out of one’s element translated both into concrete space and abstract form.
This series highlights the authority and control, as well as triviality, involved in the ritual space of the boardroom and conference table with humor and sensitivity. The emphasis on hands and gesture, as well as facial expression in some works, articulates something essential about these spaces wherein decisions are made and patience is tested.
Exhibition Page [James Cohan]