3.5.18 — Not a Toga Party

Did you ever think that you would like ancient art a lot more if it could throw a decent party? Andrea Joyce Heimer is here to help. Her paintings give preclassical nudes an active social life, at Nicelle Beauchene through March 11. It may even look like one you know. They can still seem obsessed with raw power, and they still cannot be bothered to dress for the occasion. But then this was all a long time ago.

Andrea Joyce Heimer's What if I was welcomed in this house . . .? (Nicelle Beauchene, 2017)Just how long ago? Heimer is not saying. The figures may look Mycenaean rather than heroic only because she also adopts the awkwardness of folk art. Her forests and interiors stay almost entirely within the picture plane, with vegetation and floor tiles climbing vertically rather than receding. She also brings the exuberance of Pattern and Decoration, in mute but memorable colors. One could well forgive the nudes for strutting their stuff.

She brings them closer to the present, in downright fashionable gardens and living rooms. The tiling could almost be showing off floor samples for a coming renovation, with a wash that allows it to vibrate. They tend to a very nice dog on the rug and socialize quite well, thank you. Often enough, the artist leaves their gender clearly female or a tad ambiguous. She subjects figures from an ancient vase to the feminist revolution. If some still hunt one another or bind their victims, well, men can be pathetic.

So, alas, can women. Heimer accompanies each painting with wall text, its faint pencil and block capitals a further testimony to damaged feelings. It runs to self-accusation but also to poetry. “I got so angry that I ruined everything.” It also reaches out to you. “If I did not find you, will I always live in a world of ghosts?”

The women from Danielle Orchard a floor apart, at Jack Hanley also through March 11, live among ghosts, too. Mostly paired and only barely interacting, they seem unable to get dressed after checking their cell phones or a bath. They have much in common with the languor of Heidi Hahn at the same galley a year before, although without Han’s fluent drawing and ambiguous feelings. They seem a little too concerned for nudity at that, for all their ingenious spaces and sharp colors, with echoes of Cubism and German Expressionism. They never do quite drag themselves into a recognizable past or present. That is where Heimer comes in.

“What if I was welcomed in this house,” another caption or title begins, “and made a part of the work?” A social occasion already suggests a welcome, and the flatness, outsider status, partying, and sophistication all have an ancestor in Florine Stettheimer—who, socially and financially, did have it made. Heimer, as yet, does not. “Then I stand, thick and lost, a little white statuette in a crowded room.” Then again, even antiquities can come to life.

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