Oda Jaune, blur (2012), Oil on canvas, 79 x 51 inches
By Zahra Nasser
An ode to record-high temperatures and gelatinous air, “Melt” is a collection of works by five artists exploring the bounds of figuration. Giovanni Garcia-Fenech opens the show with Self-portrait, 2014, a painting of a dark, voluptuous figure struggling against the edges of the canvas, yearning for a life outside the picture. Offsetting this anxiety are more subdued pieces by Justin Liam O’Brien nearby. His graphite drawings depicting young male lovers, such as Boys cuddling and Boys touching (both 2018), are rendered in a kind of Art Deco, soft-focus aesthetic that dances between innocence and eros.
Just as supple is Adam Putnam in his black-and-white photographs, where he uses himself as both subject and object. In Untitled (neck I), 2014, Putnam is suspended upside down, and his head and left shoulder are slumped onto the floor, Raggedy Ann–style, in complete submission to gravity. Flesh is just as malleable in Brice Chatenoud’s photos. In En attendant Robert (Waiting Robert), 2015, a man’s spiny, pale back resembles a raw Thanksgiving turkey, served upon a spotlit pedestal—a faceless mass ready for consumption. If these figures appear monstrous, it’s in a comforting way; Putnam and Chatenoud challenge the idea of the ever-erect Homo sapiens, emphasizing the human body’s capacity for artistic manipulation.
In Blur, 2012, Oda Jaune employs a delicate chiaroscuro to capture the modest weight of a mutated yet male gaze–y female physique, made from two conjoined torsos. While the topless top half is outstretched and welcoming, the bottom is a less graceful mirror image that, struggling to undress, collapses—much like Putnam’s body does. Gone, momentarily, are the days of painting and photography being at irreconcilable odds; the figures of “Melt” soften and slump together, humbly aware of how uncool they look.