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.
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.