Mehryl Levisse’s Intimate World at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
arte fuse magazine (online)
text by seug hee kim
she work with the chief curatorial team at the whitney museum of american art
Deviations from traditional white-wall gallery presentations do not often result in flattering spaces that serve the works exhibited. Birds of a feather fly together, the current exhibition of works by French artist, Mehryl Levisse at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, is a successfully mesmerizing anomaly even in the more experimental gallery district of the Lower East Side. Levisse has created not just an exhibition, but also a situation in which the viewers participate, perhaps inadvertently. Le jardin des souvenir, the abstracted wallpaper designed by Levisse entirely occupies the walls of the gallery. Arguably, the wallpaper is too distracting and takes away from other works, but it is a key ingredient to the solemnly eccentric environment Levisse sought to create.
Melting into the ominous atmosphere created by the wallpaper are four photographs of eerie and absurd, but carefully choreographed male nudes. The faces of the figures in the photographs are not visible. In Marrée basse sur table d’élevage, Levisse’s partner is posing with his body, including his face, covered by mollusks. In other photographs, the faces hide behind wigs, tapestries, and furniture. The concealment of the face seems to allow the figures to wear a new identity that plays with the newly created surroundings. Notably, while the body is the subject in all four photographs, gender seems to play an insignificant role to the figures and in the photographs. Levisse’s photogaphs are much more about the stage and the situation he creates and directs.
Six unique, almost grotesque masks are the centerpieces of the exhibition. Without context, the gallery has the appearance of a sophisticated sex shop from the outside. The masks, however, play a unique role in the exhibition. The exhibition prompts viewers to oscillate between feeling uncomfortable and feeling right at home. While one might find herself walking around feeling distant from the activities in the photographs, she may also find pleasure in looking at the dark, performative nudes of the unknown others. The masks provide not only momentary pleasure but also an opportunity for one to almost accidentally envision themselves as the figures in the photographs. The masks have distinguishing characteristics and are displayed on metal rods on a platform with light bulbs, much like what one would expect to see on vanity mirrors. Such presentation of the apparel invites the viewers to mentally shop for these masks. One may find herself asking “which one would I wear? The one with the human hair? The one with tapestry?” The masks, alongside the photographs, tap into, not necessarily the deepest, darkest sexual desires of humans, but the curiosity for exploring other identities. In so doing, Birds of a feather fly together makes the viewers feel simultaneously like intruders as well as veterans to Levisse’s obscure and intimate, but beautiful world.