Sophie von Hellermann
Sophie von Hellermann, Installation view, Making Myths, Greene Naftali, New York, 2022
Greene Naftali is pleased to announce its sixth solo exhibition with Sophie von Hellermann, featuring a series of works on paper drawn from literary themes and Greek mythology. This new suite of watercolors centers on the figure of Medusa alongside Proust’s object of thwarting affection, Albertine.
We find Medusa depicted at decisive moments of her narrative, as handed down through Ovid’s Metamorphoses and her routine appearances within Western art history. On the seashore just before her fateful seduction by Poseidon; sleeping alongside her Gorgon sisters; mid-transformation from virgin goddess to dreaded monster; transforming others, gazing upon them to turn them to stone; and finally, her decapitation, with Pegasus birthed from the pool of blood. Von Hellermann embraces a certain grisliness at the core of the Classical, yet she wears its mantle lightly – with her jewel-bright palette and limpid surfaces of squirming brushstrokes, each sheet displays her rapid touch that keeps the eye moving and the mind at work.
Motifs from Proust also appear (literature’s most canonical of cookies, for instance: his memory-inducing madeleines), and Albertine Simonet, the love interest of À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27), is featured prominently. In Proust’s telling, Albertine is a beautiful and inscrutable woman who instills powerful jealousy in the narrator: she never displays the bottomless devotion he demands, and once she’s died, he loves her with more genuine passion than he could ever summon for her in life.
In von Hellermann’s imagining, Albertine is conflated with Medusa, depicted as a sleeping gorgon herself, or strolling alone along the beach. Rendering her protagonists both recognizable and untethered from their respective narratives, the artist recontextualizes these figures that have been characterized as monstrous for following the thread of their own desire.
Alongside this new body of work, von Hellermann has also curated a focused group exhibition, Turn of the Screw, a title borrowed from the 1898 novella by Henry James. Including new paintings by artist friends Rita Ackermann, Joe Bradley, and Josh Smith, the installation also features a large-scale painting by her own hand, depicting a scene from the title story in her signature whorls of thinned paint on unprimed canvas. The four works not only manifest social and generational ties, but formal ones as well, occupying different points along a shared spectrum of figuration and abstraction.