The remarkable trait about Chris Ofili’s current solo show Devil’s Pie at the David Zwirner Gallery is that it is entirely unremarkable. As a fan of Ofili’s earlier and more glittery work, it is difficult to swallow the massive amount of modernist regurgitation that the once original artist churned out for his critically pre-applauded exhibition. Still reveling in the light of fame that only a culture war can produce, Ofili is milking his artistic right to be lazy, which won’t expire for a few more years.
Aesthetically speaking, the exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculptures lacks stylistic cohesion. A general Biblical theme is the only uniting factor between the three mediums, with titles running the gamut from Confession to Annunciation to many variations of Lazarus. The religious content is a nod to Ofili’s Catholic upbringing, as was his now infamous painting Holy Virgin Mary which incensed the Catholic world with its inclusion of elephant dung strategically placed throughout the large canvas. Pious titles, however, cannot save the lackluster execution of the paintings at David Zwirner. Rarely have oil paints created such a dull-looking finished product. Flatly rendered and thinly applied, the bright, clashing colors look garish and uninspired, especially when paired with the borrowed modernist stylistics of the work. Not only drawing from artists such as Matisse, but mimicking them, Ofili has officially succeeded in being incredibly boring. Following in a long tradition of amateurish art that copies the styles and techniques of modernism, the paintings in Devil’s Pie are more of an emulation than an homage.
And then there’s the sculpture. Highly polished and obviously fabricated, the bronze statues are a testament to the fact that anyone with money and a vision can become a sculptor. Unlike the few contemporary artists who successfully utilize fabricators, Ofili’s work does not directly deal with manufacturing a commodity nor are they massive pieces that require more than one hand to make its production tangible. Grand statuary such as Annunciation contains classical and Renaissance-esque undertones, which typically conjures the ideal of a single master at work with his hands. The sculpture clashes with the surrounding paintings, creating a pastiche of styles that is more harmful to the eye than it is a thought-provoking juxtaposition.
Mildly naughty graphite drawings are also added to the great melting pot of Devil’s Pie. Also under the guise of a religious theme, seven of the drawings depict the wives of Biblical male figures. The series, entitled Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, and Gideon (7 brides for 7 bros), basically consists of nude women in seductive poses, with an emphasis on the display of their genitalia. The portraits are hardly virtuous depictions of devout women, which adds an unnecessary irony to the exhibit.
At the end of the day, individual judgment of Ofili’s solo show at David Zwirner Gallery is a matter of taste and an appreciation of the recycling of modernism. In comparison to the originality and depth of the artist’s previous work, it is quite a let down. The installation goes to show that even brilliant artists get stuck in a rut. A bit of divine inspiration is in order for the artist’s next attempt at creating an interesting series.