Young Lady, This Will Go On Your Permanent Record: Sue Williams, Al-Qaeda is the CIA

Inside Job, 2010 mixed media 29 3/4 x 21 1/4 inches

Can’t we all just learn to trust Sue Williams? So what if, after all her stylistic shifts, she’s showing a new body of work devoted to 9/11 conspiracy theories? And big deal that these are the exact same theories espoused by President Ahmadinejad of Iran that were publicly denounced by President Obama. For all of the artists who give lip service to taking risks, Williams actually brings it.  She left David Zwirner after only one show and returned to 303 to stage a mini-retrospective called Al-Qaeda is the CIA. Hell Yes.

Curated by artist Nate Lowman, the exhibition spans from Williams’ feminist works of the 1990s to new works that continue patterning techniques visible in her 2008 show at Zwirner. In her review of that show, Roberta Smith said, “The large paintings could almost be printed textile or wall paper…that they are made by Ms. Williams is an impressive feat, but that doesn’t diminish their by-the-yard deadness.”  Weird, since wallpaper has always been a major element in Williams’ work and also figures prominently here.

Giuliani, 2010 mixed media 12 x 16 1/2 inches

New collages expose opulent interior décor as a cheap cover-up for the darker parts of the human psyche. In Inside Job, fringed curtains pull away to reveal the most calligraphic nut sack you’ll ever encounter.  Other works combine drawings of Cheney and Rumsfeld with paint swatches and parlor-style wallpaper that would be a perfectly quaint backdrop for a Condi Rice piano recital.

Whether it’s domestic violence, dripping intestines, group sex, gaping assholes, or just the way a swaying blue line naughtily overlaps a red one, Williams has always been about exposing urge. Her large-scale, intestinal war paintings seem to posit that an inevitable pull toward destruction lives inside all of us. However, her increasingly deft line work and buoyant colors ultimately render the works more humorous than morbid.

With Polka Dots, 2009 Ink and acrylic on acetate 39 1/4 x 50 inches

Whether or not you buy into 9/11 as an inside job doesn’t really matter here—Williams’ all-in commitment to her vision is persuasive enough. It is obvious that she is an artist who despises complacency. In an era where it seems like everyone is trying to be a straight-A student of the world, she is in the back of the classroom carving a very delicately drawn “Fuck You” into her desk.

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