Each art season gets the up-and-comer artist people love to hate, and this year’s is Anna Weyant. There has been incessant talk about her age—she is not yet 30, but she is already on Gagosian’s roster, and her work has sold for more than $1.6 million at auction. And there has been a good deal of chatter, much of it shot through with misogyny, about her personal life, since she is reportedly dating dealer Larry Gagosian.
The art itself has gotten lost in the process, but her newly opened first show with Gagosian, currently on view at the gallery’s Upper East Side space, provides a good opportunity to give her paintings a proper look. (Her last solo show in New York was also her first, at the Lower East Side enterprise 56 Henry in 2019.) Seven new ones can be found here, along with a group of related drawings, many of which feature women whose bodies are duplicated and made strange.
Despite all the brouhaha surrounding this exhibition, Weyant’s Gagosian debut is a sedate affair. It’s also, for the most part, a rather boring one—neither the grand show Gagosian has been hyping nor the flop people jeering from the sidelines were awaiting. Setting aside the gossip about romantic entanglements and “revenge consignments,” this is just another market-ready figurative painting show in New York by a young painter.
Weyant’s work fits squarely within a related subgenre: quasi-surreal figuration that places a focus on female psychology. Eros weaves its way through paintings like Eileen (2022), in which a young woman raises her arms behind her head, causing her flowy white tunic to ride up and reveal her underwear. Her image is repeated twice, with her double taking a slightly different position; the two figures seem pressed together, due to Weyant’s skewed perspective and flat ochre background.
At first blush, works like Eileen may appear to be loosely inspired by John Currin, whose figurations are as equally indebted to Dutch Old Master paintings as they are to Playboy. Whereas Currin has painted his women busty and bawdy, leading to repeated allegations of sexism, Weyant’s subjects are much more innocent. They seem fragile, even girlish, and they look lost in a reverie, as though they were totally unaware that they were being gazed upon. In that way, Weyant’s paintings have more in common with the art of Lisa Yuskavage, whose buxom women are set within fantastical landscapes evocative of fairy tales.
Yet there is a weirdness about Currin and Yuskavage’s art that isn’t present here. Figures like the ones seen in Two Eileens, featuring the same sitter as Eileen wearing a rumpled negligee, are oddly plasticky, undermining the sensuality here. Likewise, Venus, an inert portrait of two Venus Williamses cast against a mahogany-toned void, is evocative of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s moody paintings, with none of the rich psychological effects that Yiadom-Boakye typically conjures.
These are signs of a young artist playing it much too safe. You want Weyant to let it rip and offer up something truly bizarre.
She attempts to inject shock value by limply alluding to forms of violence. Emma depicts a woman—one who looks a lot like the writer Emma Cline, who runs a publishing imprint with Gagosian—in a slinky black slip. Her hair is being smoothed by another half-seen figure who vaguely resembles her. The seated woman is missing an eye, but this embrace connotes sisterly love rather than a captor’s grip, leading us to guess what has led up to this strange scene. The problem is that there are too few breadcrumbs here to leave anyone wondering for very long.
Most who pass through Weyant’s Gagosian show are here for the paintings, but in truth, it’s the drawings that provide any indication that she isn’t worth writing off entirely.
There’s a palpable unease in a work like Drawing for Lily (2021), featuring an elegant vase, a creamer holder with a stirrer, and a revolver with a ribbon wrapped around its trigger and barrel. It strikes the right balance between quaintness and unease, unlike the staid still lifes in this show, and its shading, done in elegant charcoal and pencil, is far smoother than what Weyant is able to achieve in oil paint.
It’s worth remembering that Weyant is just getting her start as an artist. She has only four solo shows to her name other than this one. She will in all likelihood improve.
But she has been shoved into the spotlight by the top auction houses and the biggest gallery in the world, and market forces seem to have conspired in such a way as to force her under undue scrutiny. (This month alone, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips are selling her work with estimates beginning in the $200,000 range or higher.) When a painter has made her way to the top so early, is it even possible to progress as an artist? Weyant’s next Gagosian show will provide the true test.