Judy Glantzman Reinterprets Paintings of Past Wars

Over the course of her long, prolific career, Judy Glantzman has approached artmaking with a hyperintelligent, laser-like focus. Whether diving headfirst into the East Village’s neo-expressionist scene in the 1980s or devoting herself to line drawing in the ’90s, she creates each body of work through a process of total immersion, often over a period of years. Her practice can be understood as aggressive, research-intensive, and bold. Recently, Glantzman has garnered a reputation for using gestural techniques to explore the darker elements of human nature, often through the lens of art history.

A few years ago, Glantzman saw Picasso’s iconic Guernica (1937) for the first time and took inspiration from the painting for her 2013 show at Betty Cuningham Gallery, which featured a series of wild, violent, gestural meditations (acrylic, ink, and graphite works on canvas and paper) on the nature of war. Now, in “Dressing for the Carnival,” her fifth show with the Lower East Side gallery, Glantzman is presenting another intensive project based on a classic painting: Winslow Homer’s Dressing for the Carnival (1877), a post–Civil War depiction of an emancipated slave dressed as a harlequin. “The painting drew me in,” said the artist, who has created a sprawling, layered show based on studying and reinterpreting the single work. “I made pen drawings, mapping relationships…I found deep levels of complexity: formal, racial, American relationships.” 

Glantzman has said that she “learns from going to extremes” and this show is certainly no exception with its arrangement of gridded works, each a variation on a theme strategically placed to lead the viewer through the artist’s deconstruction of Homer’s original. At the center of the show lies what Glantzman refers to as “the Grand Stage,” two multi-part collages drawing on iconography the artist has developed over time—one that fuses intimate references (expressive, disembodied faces and hands) and universal symbols (flowers, globes, and skulls). 

Surrounding the collages, two series of smaller scale paintings and drawings—“the actors” and “the calendar”—show the careful, iterative labor she performed to create this particular lexicon. In “the actors,” a compilation of small portraits, Glantzman has painted and re-painted the faces of figures from the original Dressing for the Carnival. In addition to the multigenerational black Americans portrayed in Homer’s painting, Glantzman also depicts French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David and the TV detective Columbo—figures that might seem extraneous but have been absorbed into the painter’s specific visual language. With each new iteration of a character’s face, their features change slightly, similar to how research, in the hand of historians, is rearranged and repositioned in a contemporary context.


Across the gallery, “the calendars” includes six drawings that the artist created over a period of several months, sketching and re-sketching scenes from her thoughts. Works in this series—like Fergusson (2014), which shows a jumble of brown hands and explosive marks—exemplify how eloquently Glantzman merges contemporary events with Homer’s storied, politically charged scene. We are left to wonder how much has changed since Dressing for the Carnival was painted.    


Molly Osberg



Dressing For The Carnival” is on view at Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York, Sep. 9–Oct. 17, 2015.


Follow Betty Cuningham on Artsy.