‘Carving is very hard: it’s like peeling a wooden apple and you cannot correct mishaps.’
A comparison between Paloma Varga Weisz and Stephan Balkenhol is instructive. Both are German, they are roughly the same generation and both make figurative work by carving limewood. But whereas Balkenhol’s work is relatively straightforward and the major variation is to do with scale, Weisz’s work is the opposite. She is immersed in the art of the past and when you walk into Sadie Coles a host of shadows loom.
A jointed marionette suspended by ropes from the ceiling recalls both Bellmer and De Chirico: but his body is cracked and wooden flesh bulges from the opened areas. There is perhaps some connection inferred between sa kind of shamanic sacrifice (see her earlier work) and Surrealism. A small dappled reindeer stand on its hind legs, facing the wall like a schoolboy in the corner. There is perhaps an echo of the Reindeer Man in the Trois-Freres caves in south-western France: but instead of leaping with life, she has rendered her reindeer docile. The famous Phrygian Goddess of Fertility with her ladder of full breasts comes to mind when we look at Lazlo’s Dream. The breasts of her sad little figure though are puny and sag, while her large head is surmounted by a pair of floppy poodle ears.
Technically her work is superb – see the photograph of the feet of Man, Hanging. There is also no doubt that the work is clever, if unsettling. It seems to me that her preoccupations with the art of the distant past are in fact nuanced comments on the use of ‘primitive’ in Modernism. This is a notably distinctive achievement but the effect of the show is sinister and unsettling.
Paloma Varga Weisz ‘Wild Bunch’ is at Sadie Coles, 1 Davies Street, London W1K 3DB until 18 August.