The Res in the title of Kent Monkman’s New York solo debut refers to Winnipeg, Canada’s North End, the neighborhood where the Cree artist grew up. He depicts the area’s mean streets in a suite of history paintings that shuffle gender roles and mix in various art-history references. His heady blend of realism and abstraction—and of male, female and berdache, an Indian term for transgender—speaks to both artistic and indigenous experience in the 21st century, but his works are especially compelling for their hallucinatory plausibility and unbridled excess.
In The Deposition, for example, he transforms a curbside knot of youths into figures from Veronese’s Lamentation Over the Dead Christ. The group is seen comforting one of their own: a shirtless warrior wearing a long skirt and stiletto heels, who cries in anguish while cradling a Cubistically rendered woman taken from Picasso’s Guernica. Nearby, two escapees from a Francis Bacon painting look on from the doorway of a ramshackle building.
The showstopper, a life-size Museum of Natural History–style diorama, features that same cross-dressing figure in three dimensions, sporting a feathered headdress and a bra made of dream catchers. She sits astride a motorcycle, arms outstretched in mourning for the buffalo she’s just killed—a Picassoid patchwork of hides, laid flat in the tableau’s foreground. Using a delirious stew of styles and genres, Monkman equates Cubism’s compressed space with the collision of cultures, and with the collapse of nature itself.
—Joseph R. Wolin