Zsófia Keresztes, The Failure, 2020. Glass mosaic, grout, styrofoam, expanding foam, glue, fiberglass, 46 x 73 1/2 x 16 inches. Courtesy Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York.
On ViewElijah Wheat Showroom Brooklyn
Eerie, yet seductive, amorphous, but arranged by the grid of multicolored glass tiles, the extraordinary sculptures of Hungarian artist Zsófia Keresztes are on view for the very first time in the United States. Keresztes (b. 1985) is a prevailing artist of the European art scene, whose sculptures have been exhibited in London, Rome, Düsseldorf, Vienna, and at the 15th Lyon Biennale, only in the past year. She has also shown at one of Hungary’s most exciting contemporary venues, the rooftop viewing space of Budapest’s Everybody Needs Art with Tom Volkaert last summer. While I was quite sad to miss the show due to my relocation to New York, I wouldn’t have imagined that the first time I’d meet Keresztes would be at the opening of her very first exhibition in the United States—just a block away from where I currently live in Brooklyn. Her solo exhibition, Glossy Inviolability, showcases artworks that she has created during a two-month residency in Brooklyn supported by Elijah Wheat Showroom and Bubu Arts.<br>
Walking into the gallery, the visitor first meets a large creature, with its glossy surface and unusual form, that seemingly consists of disjointed body parts, a pair of eyes, and high heels. The sculpture has a feminine character: it could be a woman whose body has crumbled under the weight of her tears. Only her breasts point up, almost like a weapon. The pastel colors further emphasize the human body-like effect of the figure, the shiny pink glass tiles recall inner organs that have just broken free. But take a step back: with eyes sitting wide apart and eight legs ready to jump, a spider-like creature emerges, waiting for the visitors to fall prey to its seductive appearance. Does the creature feed on our tears?
Zsófia Keresztes, Easy targets, heavy bites II, 2020. Glass mosaic, grout, styrofoam, expanding foam, glue, fiberglass, 14 x 19 x 13 inches. Courtesy Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York.
The other two sculptures are smaller in size, and both resemble spider webs hanging from the walls. These webs are not airy, to say the least; with heavy tears entangled in their thick, pink structures, they too have a humanly fleshy character. It is hard to decide whether they are protective or predatory of their prey. The large drawing titled Distress of the Hunter (2020) seems to elaborate on the relationship between these sculptural elements. Even the title has a narrative character—a common aspect of the artworks, as Keresztes loves to tell stories about her creatures. The drawing depicts a body-like net, with a few tears on its “back” and legs ending in long, pink nails, that crush the little spiders who, supposedly, have created the net. It comes as no surprise that Keresztes loves Louise Bourgeois’s work: her sculptural figures, much like Bourgeois’s spiders, evoke fear, anger, vanity, or self-doubt. They too are ambiguous in their beauty and viciousness, yet they also raise issues relevant to our digital age.<br>
According to Keresztes, the notion of empathy has become central to her practice after encountering the work of science journalist Emma Young, who writes about the “darker side” of empathy, claiming that it “may become a liability in an anonymous, crowded modern world.”1 Thinking about empathy’s role in the digital age, the spider webs offer a more contemporary reference to social media platforms. All the tears of Keresztes are unquestionably physical, yet they almost seem pixelated by the glass mosaic tiles. In a sense, she is after the distortion between the real and the virtual, observing our state of disconnected connectedness, in which tear emojis express, or even replace, the empathy and sadness of users for each other. While Facebook offers a crying emoji for every single post on its platform, can its users simply run out of empathy? What happens if we are so alienated or overwhelmed by the constant flow of horrific news—pandemics, climate crisis, and economic recession, just to name a few—that we have no tears left to share? <br>
Keresztes's sculptures exist in an uncanny space where the viewer is not exactly sure how to feel about these enigmatic creatures. Their glossy surfaces are so seductive it is almost annoying, yet they hide a polystyrene skeleton—in a way, they function all too similarly to Instagram profiles. In his recent book Face and Mask: A Double History (2017), Hans Belting suggested that the emergence of social media platforms, such as Instagram, has resulted in an “updated,” democratized version of Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle in which the “identification of all human social life with appearances” dominates society.2 In the ambiguous, entangled relationship of physicality and virtuality, reality and appearance that is social media, Keresztes's tears exist to deceive. They invite us to participate in weaving the virtual web of sadness and illusion, only to then be shattered under the weight of our own creation.
- Emma Young, “I Feel Your Pain,” New Scientist, May 2016: 33-34.
- Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Ken Knabb (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014). 4.