If Raqib Shaw’s three-gallery Pace debut seems like an extravagant expenditure of space, the artist’s sensational sculptures and paintings—including the gargantuan, 60-foot-long Paradise Lost—make every effort to live up to it. From vividly colored battles fought by jewel-bedecked, zebra-headed warriors to less fantastical scenes in which bears, baboons and big cats gorge on their prey, Shaw’s vision is as ambitious as it is dark.
Previously, Shaw had alluded to India and Pakistan’s dispute over his native Kashmir, but his latest works seem unmoored from specific conflicts; if anything, they bring to mind end-of-the-world action movies, only they’re populated by animal-human hybrids resembling Hindu deities like Ganesha and Hanuman, or perhaps Egyptian gods Horus and Anubis. Set within scenes of collapsing Greek columns and temples, they lunge at each other like raging beasts, feasting on one another’s entrails.
After perusing many such eyeball-popping acts—performed not only by the aforementioned but also by exquisite peacocks, parrots and more—the carnage can grow tiresome. Likewise, Shaw’s painted bronze sculptures of entwined athletic combatants in fetishistic jockstraps and boots come across as one man’s overheated erotic fantasies.
Yet the show’s centerpiece, Paradise Lost, avoids such pitfalls by balancing the mayhem with more anodyne views of nature (albeit ones centering on the carnivorous food chain). By depicting humanlike creatures in these horrors, Shaw deflects us from our own potential for violence, allowing the paintings to dazzle as much as they dismay.—Merrily Kerr