An atmosphere of decadence and sensuality can easily encourage ponderous meditations on death. With “Sleeves of Desire II,” his first solo show in New York, Soshiro Matsubara has gone with a light touch, cultivating an environment informed by Symbolist aesthetics and Romantic thought yet equally attendant to worldly desires. Matsubara, who lives and works in Vienna, is a founding member of Tokyo’s XYZ collective. His presentation at Brennan & Griffin has the feel of a group exhibition, with an ambitious range of small-scale sculptures and paintings packed into the small gallery. The natural world is evoked—and neatly confined to quotation marks—through glazed ceramic leaves scattered around the gallery floor, as if freshly fallen from artificial trees just in time for spring. Languid abstract canvases in pink palettes hung tightly together suggest a kind of aloof mastery of historical modern art (the word romantic runs diagonally across one canvas). Yet most of the real action is on the floor, where small sculptures arranged on roughly painted upstretched canvases depict copulating couples “wallowing in happiness,” as Mallarmé would have it. A globe lamp hanging from the ceiling at knee-level illuminates this horizontal world, a space shared by human figures, ceramic vessels, and a graven image of a pagan god. —William S. Smith
Pictured: Soshiro Matsubara: Indestructible Object, 2017, glazed ceramic, 31 by 16 inches. Courtesy Brennan & Griffin, New York.