Genieve Figgis’s work must be viewed through the double lens of parody and irony. She demands we know something about her art-historical sources—about Fragonard and the Rococo or 18th-century conversation pieces paintings. The goal she set herself with these 17 nightmares—to retrieve art from banality—was achieved with stunning success in this show, “Good Morning, Midnight.”
Her Ladies picnic (2014) is a subject of the sort painted by Johann Zoffany, the darling of late 18th-century English society. His sharply delineated figures, his neoclassical orderliness, and his manipulation of light all came to the point here. Figgis, a Dubliner and therefore, like Zoffany, an outsider invading and reconstructing a supposedly English tradition, peels back the scabs on Zoffany’s idyll. Her four dames are posed on a blanket, a fancy luncheon before them, in a parklike setting: all is decorous, but the ladies in question are grotesque monsters. We hope they enjoy themselves but certainly don’t want to know what or who they’re eating.
Our first party (2014) suggests Jane Austen’s young ladies enjoying a ball, but in fact it is a battle of demons, which is perhaps what Austen’s girls really are beneath the skin. Room (2014) is an interior devoid of characters, a view toward two tall windows, the walls decorated with three tiny Figgis paintings: everything in its place; a bomb ready to explode.
A version of this story originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 85.