Mamma Andersson

New York

at Zwirner


The dead man in Karin Mamma Andersson’s Kitchen Fight sprawls across the painting, yet it takes several minutes to realize he is even there. And judging by the way viewers casually glanced at the painting and moved on when I was in the gallery, he completely escapes notice by most. The painting initially looks like a mundane scene: pots sit on a countertop; two cute bear figurines spar on a table. A splotch of dark red paint on the loosely rendered green floor doesn’t seem particularly out of place, but close investigation yields the grisly discovery of the bleeding body painted in shades of greenish gray almost imperceptibly different from the surroundings. The apparition effects a disturbing rupture, alerting you that Andersson’s reserved yet profoundly potent paintings are as much about what you miss as they are about what you see.

Andersson has said that she is influenced by theater and film, and, indeed, the paintings in “Who is sleeping on my pillow”-a show also featuring works by her husband, fellow Swede Jockum Nordström, as well as three collaborative pieces-do feel a bit like stage sets on which ambiguous narratives are about to unfold. Combining acrylic and oil on wood panels, Andersson employs a range of techniques-thin, scrubby brushwork; thick impasto; flat expanses; pooling and puddling; scraping, smearing and allowing the paint to crack-which seamlessly coalesce in the service of storytelling.

Most of the paintings here (all 2010, except for three watercolors from 2009) depict domestic interiors rendered in the muted hues and searing whites characteristic of the flat light of far-northern climes. In several, the perspective is subtly skewed, producing a vague sense that something is very, very wrong. In one of my favorites, schoolchildren’s coats hang on a rack on a beige wall; an adjacent faded red wall is punctured by an off-perspective window revealing a cold spring day. There’s nothing overtly distressing about the scene, but the title, Hallway, points to the transitional nature of the space-a place where children shed the identity connected to their home life and enter the turbulent, uncertain world of their peers. Dead End also depicts a transitional space: a turn-around area on a snowy dirt road flanked by woods. The composition’s symmetry lends the painting a mum matter-of-factness, broken only by looping tire tracks in mud and snow, evidencing a poignant series of wrong turns, changed minds, backtracking.

In the phenomenon known as phantom limb pain, amputees experience a bizarre cognitive dissonance that causes excruciating discomfort in limbs long removed. The works in this show elicit a similar confusion: with the exception of Kitchen Fight, none depict anything out of the ordinary, but they still conjure a palpable sense of injury and displacement despite their lack of visible provocation.

Photo: Mamma Andersson: Kitchen Fight, 2010, acrylic and oil on panel, 291⁄2 by 563⁄4 inches; at Zwirner.