No Shades of Grey

The Elephant, a mixed-media installation piece by Helle Mardahl, showcases a massive ball-and-chain and sewn dummies donning dunce caps and ski masks.

Late last month, I attended (and was pleasantly surprised by) the opening of The Largest Possible Audience, an exhibition by the Danish artist Helle Mardahl at New York’s LaViolaBank Gallery. Once I’d gotten my bearings in the packed room—the largest possible audience, indeed—I found myself swimming in a sea of black-and-white mixed-media mayhem, unsure if I was in prison or on the playground. Tim Burton would eat this up!

I’ve always taken a liking to theatrical, contemporary works with a flair for the eerie, but Mardahl brings this to another level. Her “media library” is vast—from painting and drawing to fashion, sculpture, and Joseph Cornell–style shadow boxes—and she uses an array of nontraditional materials. (This show saw not just electrical tape, tracing paper, and confetti, but also a wedding cake and a yoga ball.)

The Maid (2007)

Regardless of the medium, Mardahl seems hopelessly drawn to extremes—to stark black-and-white contrasts and overemphasized features on contorted, misshapen figures. Is this a nod to the exhausting cycle of highs and lows (well, mostly lows) we’ve all been dealing with lately? Perhaps. But Mardahl doesn’t wallow; the girl’s got spunk. She arrived at the opening sporting puffy handmade scrunchie-esque bracelets and a black plastic beret atop her asymmetrically cut hair, looking like a proud debutante primed for the world’s most curious coming-out extravaganza.

The Child’s Desire (2009)

The Largest Possible Audience runs through May 30 at New York’s LaViolaBank Gallery.

Categories: Arts + Culture

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