2017 Venice Biennale Reviews

Water Ways: Chris Ofili Delivers a Stunning Show of Drawings at Victoria Miro in Venice

Victoria Miro's new space in Venice, at San Marco 1994.ARTNEWS

Victoria Miro’s new space in Venice, at San Marco 1994.

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If you are in Venice right now, drop what you are doing and go see “Poolside Magic,” Chris Ofili’s exhibition at the new space that London gallery Victoria Miro opened last night in San Marco. It is a resoundingly beautiful show, a jewel box of twenty-seven smoldering drawings on a single subject. In almost every one, a cocktail waiter appears before a naked woman, who reclines, poses, or sips a drink. Either standing at attention or bent at a full bow, he is presenting a bowl from which flames, smoke, or perhaps supernatural clouds are emerging—all absinthe green and coral blue. A face is hidden within those waves of color, lost in some private, wonderful reverie as she soars over the attentive man.

Installation view of 'Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic' at Victoria Miro in Venice.ARTNEWS

Installation view of ‘Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic’ at Victoria Miro in Venice.

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Ofili made the works in 2012 and 2013 with charcoal, pastel, and watercolor, which looks only barely dry, its wildly rich, undulating color spread across the paper. (If the figures disappeared, truly remarkable abstractions would still remain.) Looking at them, one has the sense of being given the privilege of catching a glimpse of sacred and private rituals between two people, and also the privilege of watching an artist work over an idea again and again, honing it, experimenting with it, seeing where it leads.

The drawings are, perhaps, allegories for power dynamics or negotiations that go unspoken in relationships. But, really, words are failing me here. What I can say is that, while in the show and for a while afterward, I felt very lucky, like I had been told a very personal, meaningful story by someone I was just getting to know, and which I am still thinking about, trying to make sense of it.

Chris Ofili, Poolside Magic 12, 2013.ARTNEWS

Chris Ofili, Poolside Magic 12, 2013.

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Installation view of 'Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic' at Victoria Miro in Venice.ARTNEWS

Installation view of ‘Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic’ at Victoria Miro in Venice.

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Chris Ofili, Poolside Magic 9, 2012.ARTNEWS

Chris Ofili, Poolside Magic 9, 2012.

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Installation view of 'Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic' at Victoria Miro in Venice.ARTNEWS

Installation view of ‘Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic’ at Victoria Miro in Venice.

ARTNEWS

Installation view of 'Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic' at Victoria Miro in Venice.ARTNEWS

Installation view of ‘Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic’ at Victoria Miro in Venice.

ARTNEWS

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