LONDON — The title of Louise Giovanelli’s first exhibition at White Cube in London — As If, Almost — is a literal translation of the Latin word quasi, which means that one thing resembles another, but not entirely. Bringing together recent works of varying formats, the exhibition continues Giovanelli’s inquiry into celebrity and devotion. She suggests that our largely secular society imbues celebrities with some of the sacred characteristics previously reserved for religious figures and artifacts. Through formal, thematic, and narrative choices, she situates her quietly seductive paintings in a dreamlike, in-between state, one that alternately references the digital and the historical, the spiritual and the ephemeral.
Two paintings from Giovanelli’s series of drawn curtains frame the exhibition. The large, yellow-green triptych “Prairie” (2020) is based on a snapshot of the artist’s own curtains, which she flipped, copied, and pasted, until the domestic drapes took on an operatic scale. Less formal but just as dramatic, the fringed metallic curtains of “Vanitas” (2022) evoke the retro stages of seedy bars. Surrounding these two paintings are works depicting a shimmery dress worn by Mariah Carey, a monk lost in prayer, shiny blond hair, and the television character Patsy Stone from the 1990s sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, smiling mischievously through an empty wine glass. The curtains of “Prairie” and “Vanitas” are both closed, as though a performance has just finished, or is about to begin.
Giovanelli bases each painting on an image from her personal archive, which includes film stills, staged photographs, iPhone snapshots, and details of religious paintings. While her source material ranges from the 15th century to the present day, she draws her technique from Northern Renaissance painters. She primes her canvases with gesso, then painstakingly applies thin layers of highly pigmented paint, which sometimes includes gold leaf. The luminous effect recalls stained glass windows, or the blue light emanating from a digital screen. Similarly, the elongated rectangular format of several works gestures toward both the proportions of smartphones and devotional paintings of saints.
“I am always striving for narrative ambiguity in my work,” Giovanelli told Juxtapoz in 2020. She achieves this ambiguity in different ways. “Silo” (2020) is so tightly focused on a coiled strand of hair that we do not see who it belongs to. “Altar” (2020) achieves its ambiguity not through composition but thought its depiction of a shifting emotional state. Based on the 1976 cult horror film Carrie, the work captures the exact moment the namesake character transforms from prom queen to a demonic embodiment of that stereotype, as she realizes that her coronation was an elaborate prank.
Questioning how art, religion, and popular entertainment each create individuals and images worthy of devotion, Giovanelli does not provide any straightforward answers, but rather highlights where these spheres blur, becoming more like one another.
Louise Giovanelli: As If, Almost continues at White Cube Bermondsey (144 – 152 Bermondsey Street, London, England) through September 11. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.