Currently on show at the Brooklyn Museum is a survey of the work of Kenyan-born New York-based artist Wangechi Mutu, an artist best known for the strange creatures that inhabit her expressive and provocative collages. Life-size hybridized figures are assembled from magazine clippings and affixed to expanses of Mylar. Animal, mechanical, reptilian and erotic, Mutu’s avatars stare you down and seem to challenge you. These mytho-feminist super beings, sometimes, powered by motorcycle feet, inhabit an Afro-futuristic world that’s fleshed out in paint and embellished with plastic pearls, slivers of wood-gran-printed adhesive and gliterry but violent bursts of color. Although these images fascinated me in the past, this show makes evident how the market can shape the career of an artist to the point of emptying it from any substance.
It is obvious that what Mutu favors is collage and for that she uses a diverse range of materials from fur pelts to magazine images to packing tape as a means of exploring the issues that she finds ‘enrapturing and intriguing’. According to curators: “The themes she explores in her work include human desire, conquest, empire building and alienation, expressed through and extending beyond the body’s limits’. Having said this, there is no visual evidence of that exploration because the pastiche takes over like a superficial veil that prevents the viewer from seeing beyond.
The rather broad nature of the exhibition title, which is, probably too boldly, “Wangechi Mutu,” reflects the sheer diversity of works on display in what is the most ambitious and extensive international survey of Mutu’s work to date – a survey that nearly proved too extensive. The artist herself even expressed concerns over the number of works that were selected for the exhibition. “I always thought that the museum wanted more than could be accommodated in the space,” Mutu says. The way in which the exhibition has been ‘non-curated’ reflects Mutu’s eclecticism and puts some light in where the problem is.