Stepping into Genevieve Gaignard’s first New York solo exhibition, you find yourself gazing into the unsettling void of a black mirror. Mounted on Victoria wallpaper that depicts a field of prim, pouting, snow-white female faces, the dark oval presents the viewer with a literal and figurative reflection of otherness. Gaignard’s installation, Seeing is Believing, thus makes for a blunt but memorable introduction to a visually busy exhibition in which issues of racial, sexual and cultural difference are key, especially as we see them represented (or, much more often, misrepresented) in the already ideologically fraught arena of the beauty industry.
“Counterfeit Currency” gathers the results of a recent period of intense creativity for Gaignard, but the collages and photographs here still feel conceptually bare-bones in comparison to her mise-en-abîme environments, a form to which she lays most convincing claim. In Be More, a bathroom set is stocked with an array of products designed to alter (meaning, of course, lighten) the appearance of black skin, while in Don’t Wish Me Well, another part-room is decorated in elaborate period tribute to the Black Panthers. These set-ups—part-sculptural, part-theatrical, part-archival—make for the artist’s most involving explorations of identity and its everyday performance.