Heat Seekers

Inka Essenhigh, who exhibited a closely related group of paintings less than six months ago at Stefan Stux, is better than Loeb, though here she looks like she's in production. The seven new paintings at Deitch look too similar because they all rely on the same formula.

All the works are rendered in shiny, smooth, enamel paint, and look almost like Chinese lacquerware by way of Japanimation. The backgrounds are always solid, the colors opaque greens, tans, and browns. On each surface, Essenhigh deploys a comic-opera troupe of grotesque, mutated figures that look like ghosts or nomads, or lumpy animals that resemble small appliances. The finished paintings suggest giant bondage sci-fi scenarios by Aubrey Beardsley or Dalí.

Sometimes her worldview is dystopian, as in Cosmos, in which a spatula-shaped oasis hovers in a field of peacock blue. In the foreground, one demon creature roasts another on a spit, while IV tubes attach themselves to dying palm trees. Virgin and Volcanoreveals her more sexual side, as a violet flower petal floats on a ground of rich burgundy. A corpulent group of odalisques lounge on one side of the labial leaf, while on the other, a squadron of samurai thugs flex their muscles.

Aubrey Beardsley goes sci-fi: a detail of Inka Essenhigh's Large Fire (1998).
Robin Holland
Aubrey Beardsley goes sci-fi: a detail of Inka Essenhigh's Large Fire (1998).

Details

Damian Loeb
Mary Boone Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
Through February 13

Inka Essenhigh
Deitch Projects
76 Grand Street
Through February 13

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There are still too many undigested references in Essenhigh's work, among them Jim Nutt, Carl Wirsum, Matthew Ritchie, and Valerio Adami, but her paintings feel authentic and have a nice, if too standardized, no-touch touch. She ought to elevate the decorative aspects of her work to something more physically complicated, clarify the narrative, and maybe learn to say no to the next mainstream magazine that comes along.

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