Kyle Dunn’s paintings glow like embers, and thus I first saw them through the gallery window, warming yet another disappointing evening. Context is everything – if we Zürchers are longing for a hot orange sunset, the saturated colour through the window in The Santa Anas, 2021, augurs ill; the work is named after the winds that carry fire through tinder-dry California.
Each work, whether on board or carved into foam, is constructed like elaborate marquetry, complete with knots of impossible perspective. There’s action in every image and I’m captivated by two hanging on opposite sides of the gallery. In The Pact, 2020, two naked figures have landed from on high, face down on a pavement, toppling a tray of fruit in their fall. Twin car headlights approach round the distant corner; the scattered peaches, pears and plums are plump and so are the victims’ buttocks. In The Fool, 2021, a man and diminutive dog prance across the picture, an ochre sky behind them. Between the doggy state of grace one pair shares, the joint suicide of the other and the climate, we’re going to hell.
Dunn’s blank faces and uneasy leisure poses build on John Currin’s portraiture. Currin’s figures often teeter on a psychological knife-edge that you can’t disregard, even if you don’t want to be implicated in the invasive scrutiny of his subjects. Here, that’s not the case. Dunn’s figures are inscrutable; their inner dramas remain private, even if the consequences are public. Therefore, though they are – and they are – specific, personal figures, these are also allegorical narratives in which motivation is opaque and open to interpretation. Dunn provides the narrative ingredients, a sublime surface and brewing intensity.
Kyle Dunn, The Fool, Galerie Maria Bernheim, Rämistrasse 31
11 June–24 July and by appointment until 23 August 2021
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