Francis Upritchard, "War Dance"
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New Zealand’s representative at the 2009 Venice Biennale, Francis Upritchard has been showing throughout Europe and Asia for the past 16 years. Aside from a 2005 project-room showcase at Andrea Rosen and a few group exhibitions at Salon 94, however, Upritchard’s strange sculptural output has been largely unseen here. In May, Anton Kern presented a group of her delicate figures at Frieze New York; now, with this solo show, the uniqueness of her artistic pursuit is finally being revealed.
For “War Dance,” Upritchard fills the front gallery with eight spindly characters—resembling attenuated elves—each engaged in some sort of weird ritualistic movement. The back room, meanwhile, holds a ninth figure, along with an assortment of quirky drinking vessels. Upritchard uses polymer modeling clay pressed over wire armatures and hand-sewn garments to create her works, which recall the wood carved Moriskentänzer (Morris dancers) by the Northern Renaissance sculptor Erasmus Grasser, or the warriors from the Bayeux Tapestry. Upritchard’s war dancers, however, are unarmed, and with their half-closed eyes and turned-down mouths, appear more somnambulant than aggressive as they gesture with skinny arms atop stylish metal plinths.
Along with the pitchers, flasks and mugs, these objects evoke a medieval celebration deep in a forest somewhere—led, perhaps, by the chap in the back room, who sports scraggly hair and harlequin-patterned skin. Whatever the case, they all seem to exist in a realm where past, present and future both oddly and vividly collide.—Paul Laster