André Pretorius’s new series of oil paintings presents his sardonic mix of allegory and personal experience. Appropriating composition, technique, and subject matter from various old masters, he relates contemporary characters of New York’s slick affluence in grand parables and portraits. Casting an arch glance at the elite class with a wry humor and caustic vision, Pretorius questions both their leisure and glamour, cognizant of his own complex relationship to this world as an emerging artist.

The players in his drama dress in costumes at the undifferentiated tip of fashion, surrounded by the accoutrements of luxury. In The Party, the hostess of a smoky soiree laments the spilled wine and cigarette butts on her modern carpet. Above her, in mimicry of Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition from the Cross, a team of young studs remove a passed out reveler from the room. With her age-lined eyes and large surgical scar, she is perhaps too old to keep up with the Rabelaisian festivities. The drama of the scene is heightened by the flat High Mannerist dynamic of tangled glances from these nine merrymakers.

In The Parable of the Blind, three young hipsters in hoodies trip over their ill-fitting pants in the streets of a gentrified New York neighborhood (such as Williamsburg, Brooklyn where the artist has lived and worked since 1992). Simulating Jan Breughel’s Blindensturz, each of Pretorius’s clowns are blinded differently: glazed with stoned indifference, lost in ipod reverie, and oblivious in mirrored shades. In a sequence of Rich Girls portraits, the artist presents young women and their classically beautiful yet vacant stares.

In two related works, Pretorius depicts the artist in mid-studio practice. The Sculptor meditates in front of her handiwork in three dimensions; a coy pose, placid face, and spotless studio give her the air of a dilettante. Her male counterpart in Self-Portrait – Monkey Painting(s) is a cartoon monkey creating a photo-realistic painting of an all-American young man in perfectly paint-splattered pants. Thus two stereotypes meet face to face: the artist as mindless producer and the over-groomed celebrity model. The studio backdrop, however, is worn by a lifetime of labor – wallpaper peeling, floor smeared with years of color – and greatly resembles Pretorius’s own live-work space on the shore of the East River.

Pretorius’s flawless painting technique speaks to his history as a copyist, where he encountered some of his inspirations. This exhibition is his second solo show at ZieherSmith.

Installation View: André Pretorius, ZieherSmith

Installation View: André Pretorius, ZieherSmith


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