Lisa Yuskavage, “Triptych” (2011), oil on linen, 231 x 70 1/8 inches (all image by the author)

Lisa Yuskavage and Nicola Tyson have solo shows three blocks from another in Manhattan’s Chelsea art-borhood. Both focus on the appearance of the figure and how it responds to or appears in certain situations, both real and imagined. The results could not be more different.

Yuskavage paints inane caricatures of women’s bodies. Tits and ass reign supreme. To dismiss them solely as eye candy would be easy, but unfair. Something far more engaging is going on.

Works by Yuskavage at David Zwirner (via

As a pig, I am attracted to explicit pictures of women. Yuskavage’s paintings of ballooning breasts, rotund buttocks, and bushy, swollen naughty bits just suck me in. Unlike Currin, her vulgar depictions do not seem mean-spirited.  Despite my proclivities, I had reservations about seeing her new show. How many times can she re-imagine Penthouse’s Pet of the Month photo spreads?

Thankfully, she’s changed her approach, and for the better, I think.

In Triptych, which spans nearly twenty feet, a naked farm girl is spread out on a coarse wooden table like a turkey dinner. Legs splayed, a daub of paint on the Mons pubis reveals her crotch, which is freshly shaved. Panties are nowhere to be found. As the girl spills off the table, we catch a glimpse of a pale breast and erect pink nipple, chewy as a gumdrop. Like Gustave Courbet’s crotch-focused painting “The Origin of the World” (1866), the girl’s face is never revealed.

Throughout the new work, color and light shift in odd, often unexpected movements. Her paint application alternates between wet glazes and flourishes of dryly-brushed paint. Some passages sparkle.

What I appreciate about the new paintings is their new sense of scale, which is movie screen large. Her top-heavy honeys tower above the landscape like Nancy Archer from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Unfortunately, her women do not pack the same punch as that spurned socialite. For now, her women are content to just diddle themselves like horny teenage boys or internet junkies, and masturbation is OK, but it only has so much narrative sweep. I wonder what her paintings would look like if her cast of characters started to wreck shop like Godzilla or King Kong.

I hope she continues on her B movie path. Who knows? Maybe she’ll introduce unicorns.

The fun stopped at Tyson’s show.

Nicola Tyson, “Two Figures Touching” (2011), oil on canvas, 72 x 81 inches

Her half-realized figures are set against lurid, two-dimensional fields. Some paintings have one figure. Others have two. It makes no difference. The effect is the same. Dull.

Tyson’s work installated at Petzel (via

According to the press release, she is working in a satirical tradition, which extends to James Ensor.

Ensor’s grotesque, masked figures and corrupt politicians commit acts of murder, seduction and deceit. Most important, they’re interesting to look at. The same cannot be said about Tyson’s grotesqueries. For her, her cast of characters never rises about bar napkin scribbles.

Tyson’s application of the paint is either plodding or harried. Every mark is the same. No subtlety. No difference. She uses a bright, neon palette. I suppose the intense colors are supposed to suggest something, maybe alienation. Whatever. All I wanted to do was look at the white wall for relief. A broken down house painter has more composure and flair with the brush than Tyson. I am not sure if she is lazy, sloppy, or inept. Maybe, she is all three.

Lisa Yuskavage is at David Zwirner Gallery (519 W 19th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) and Nicola Tyson is showing at Friedrich Petzel Gallery (537 W 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan). Both shows close this Saturday, November 5.

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