Kelly Reemtsen: The Shape of Things

October 8 - November 7, 2020

albertz benda, New York

Kelly Reemtsen: The Shape of Things - Exhibitions

Kelly Reemtsen [American, b. 1967]
Pieces of Her 5, 2020
Oil on Panel
20 x 20 inches
51 x 51 cm

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Opening October 8, 2020 albertz benda presents Kelly Reemtsen: The Shape of Things.  In three series of new works –  Oval Paintings, Pieces of Her, and Chainsaw Sculptures – Reemtsen taps into the loaded cultural associations surrounding femininity. 

“She a maiden of rarest beauty...all light and smiles,” writes Edgar Allen Poe in The Oval Portrait (1850), “hating only the Art which was her rival…she was humble and obedient.” This Victorian maiden eventually succumbs to a wasting disease while sitting for her portrait – a vessel for a harsh lesson on the dangers of the male artistic temperament, and beauty at the expense of content. 

Upon first entering the gallery, the women in Reemtsen’s Oval Paintings recall this tradition of Victorian portraiture – the subjects are bedecked in formal dresses and presented in a vignette manner.  But the artist turns this custom on its head, reclaiming the feminine form and giving agency to characters that have historically been treated as decorative or superficial. In The Escape Plan (2020), a woman climbs a ladder with a sledgehammer in hand, ready to break the glass ceiling. 

Pieces of Her - a wall of thirty 20 x 20 inch canvases - represents an anthology of archetypes that Reemtsen has painted over the past ten years. The works can be arranged in different modular groups, changing to fit the world around them.  Her subjects stand at ease, casually holding power tools and carpentry equipment that are at odds with their formal outfits.  Cropped at the shoulders or facing away from the viewer, they are anonymous and inscrutable.

“I’m always amused,” explains Reemtsen, “when people think the women are threatening. Why do you see it that way? It’s not personal. That’s a projection."  Embracing this confrontational aspect, the artist has created a new sculptural installation of eight cast resin and steel chainsaws, displayed in the gallery.

Throughout, Reemtsen skillfully blends humor, ornament, and advocacy to reflect on gender performativity and address the challenges faced by women today as they navigate expectations around careers and family.

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