56-Henry_13047.jpg
 
56-Henry_13051.jpg
 
56-Henry_13046.jpg
 
 
Self Portrait of a Gambler,  2019, Oil on panel 18 x 24 inches (45.72 x 60.96cm)

Self Portrait of a Gambler, 2019, Oil on panel 18 x 24 inches (45.72 x 60.96cm)

 
 
John,  2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

John, 2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

 
 
From A to A,  2019, Oil on Panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

From A to A, 2019, Oil on Panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

 
 
Personal Best,  2019, Oil on panel 36 x 24 inches (91.44 x 60.96 cm)

Personal Best, 2019, Oil on panel 36 x 24 inches (91.44 x 60.96 cm)

 
 
Put Yourself in my Shoes,  2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

Put Yourself in my Shoes, 2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

 
 
A Lance Through Her Side,  2019, Oil on panel 16 x 12 inches (40.64 x 30.48 cm)

A Lance Through Her Side, 2019, Oil on panel 16 x 12 inches (40.64 x 30.48 cm)

 
 
Some Dolls are Bigger than Others,  2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

Some Dolls are Bigger than Others, 2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

 
 
Seeing Eye to Eye,  2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

Seeing Eye to Eye, 2019, Oil on panel 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm)

 
 
The Tale of The Tub,  2019, Oil on panel 24 x 36 inches (60.96 x 91.44 cm)

The Tale of The Tub, 2019, Oil on panel 24 x 36 inches (60.96 x 91.44 cm)

 
 
Escape Artist,  2019, Oil on panel 16 x 12 inches (40.64 x 30.48 cm)

Escape Artist, 2019, Oil on panel 16 x 12 inches (40.64 x 30.48 cm)

 
 
Let There be (Some) Light,  2019, Oil on panel 48 x 60 inches (121.92 x 152.4 cm)

Let There be (Some) Light, 2019, Oil on panel 48 x 60 inches (121.92 x 152.4 cm)

 
 
Anatomy of Small House,  2019, Oil on panel 48 x 60 inches (121.92 x 152.4 cm)

Anatomy of Small House, 2019, Oil on panel 48 x 60 inches (121.92 x 152.4 cm)

 

Presumed Innocence, or Fifty Shades of Green: On the Work of Anna Weyant

by Jens Hoffmann

To make art always also means to insert oneself into a particular conversation with the

past in order to assess what has already been done, by whom, and how, but also to engage

in conversation with what is taking place at this particular moment. Anna Weyant takes

this idea very much to heart in her first solo exhibition, Welcome to the Dollhouse,

presented at 56 Henry in New York. Weyant was born in Calgary, currently lives in New

York, and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2017. Welcome to the

Dollhouse brings together some concerns from her previous work—circling around

questions of youth and adolescence—with the wicked reality of growing up. The title is a

direct reference to Todd Solondz’s 1995 movie of the same name—a tragicomic coming-

of-age story about a teenage girl, Dawn Wiener, whose schoolmates call her Wiener Dog.

Dawn undergoes all sorts of humiliations and abuses while attempting to fit in, in large

part because her manipulative and cruel little sister, Missy, sabotages all of Dawn’s

efforts to join the crew of cool kids at her school.

Weyant’s artworks take cues from Dutch Golden Age paintings; the artist frequently

mentions her adoration for Gerrit van Honthorst, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, and

Henrick Terbrugghen. Yet it is unclear if she fully embraces that tradition, even if she

calls upon a lot of its tropes; indeed, she is just as knowledgeable when it comes to

modern and contemporary art and popular culture. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek

humor about everything she does. Her paintings are playful, tragicomic, and haunting,

and sit firmly in a lineage of contemporary artists like John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, Rita

Ackermann, and perhaps even Lisa Yuskavage.

The show features a dozen paintings in total. Two are of a dollhouse, one showing its

facade and the other an interior cutaway. The former is titled Let there be (some more)

light, evoking René Magritte’s iconic Empire of Light series, and also of course the

creation of the world in the Book of Genesis, an English translation of the Hebrew

sentence יְהִי אוֹר (Let there be light) in the Torah, the first part of the Hebrew Bible.

Anatomy of a Doll’s House, the interior view, might refer to Norwegian writer Henrik

Ibsen’s 1879 drama A Doll’s House about the awakening of a middle-class society in

Norway at the end of the eighteenth century—a society not unlike the one Weyant comes

from. Perhaps tellingly, she uses the same phrasing as the British translation of Ibsen’s

title, “A Doll’s House,” rather than “Dollhouse,” as is more commonly said in the United

States. Anatomy of a Doll’s House presents us with a bathroom, a living room, a kitchen,

and a bedroom, all empty, waiting for the play to start. It brings to mind the infamous

empty houses of Huguette Clark, the twentieth-century heiress and philanthropist who

lived in various hospitals and other institutions, leaving her several large mansions

unoccupied. One likewise can’t escape thinking of Amy Bennett’s paintings of typical

American middle- and upper-middle-class suburban exteriors. There might even be a bit

of Laurie Simmons’s early photographs of domestic dollhouse scenes in Weyant’s

paintings. Yet Weyant seems less interested in reflecting on the role of women in the

Western nuclear family than in families’ hidden and un-discussed underbellies. Looking

more closely at Let there be (some more) light, we notice that the house’s door has been

opened by force: it is open and its knob is broken off. There is a shoe nearby, perhaps left

by a Cinderella-like character.

The other ten paintings, hanging on the opposite wall, depict individual rooms of the

house populated by a group of girls. We know that Weyant’s personal dollhouse from her

early youth served as the model for the one depicted in the paintings, and we thus feel a

bit transported back to her childhood. Yet even though dollhouses are now mostly

associated with children, when they first emerged at the end of the Renaissance they were

a pastime for adults, who collected and carefully decorated them with idealized interiors.

The dollhouse as we know it today—meaning, a young girls’ hobby—emerged in

eighteenth-century Europe during the Industrial Revolution. One of the most famous

historical dollhouses belonged to Queen Mary of England (1867–1953) and was designed

by the well-known architect Sir Edwin Lutyens; the English writer Arthur Conan Doyle,

author of the iconic Sherlock Holmes books, even wrote to-scale books to stock its

library. Queen Mary’s dollhouse is still on view today at Windsor Castle, and is seen by

millions of visitors every year. By far the most famous dollhouse in the world of art is the

so-called Stettheimer Dollhouse, on view at the Museum of the City of New York, made

by Carrie Stettheimer (1869–1944), sister of notable artist and art collector Florine

Stettheimer. Carrie worked on the house from 1916 to 1935. Its art collection includes

original miniature artworks by Alexander Archipenko, Gaston Lachaise, and Marcel

Duchamp; Duchamp made for it a miniature copy of his famous painting Nude

Descending a Staircase (1912). Likewise, Weyant’s painted scenes are often homages to

or direct citations of artists she admires, or references to movies or literature she loves.

Her painted dollhouse is in effect a gallery within the gallery, revealing influences that

have shaped her as an artist.

Weyant spoke to me recently about her fascination with the literary character Eloise,

created by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight in the 1950s. Eloise is a

young girl who lives on the top floor of the Plaza Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue

together with her absent-minded nanny, her dog Weenie, and a turtle named Skipperdee.

Eloise is an independent young girl up to all sorts of mischief, for instance roller-skating

down the corridors of the Plaza, pouring champagne down the mail chute, or writing her

name on the hotel walls. The book’s subtitle, “A Book for Precocious Grown-Ups,” sums

up Weyant’s interest in the story—it is in fact a book for those in between childhood and

adulthood.

Titles play an important part in Weyant’s work. A painting of a sad-looking doll with

Kleenex tissues in her bra to make her breasts appear bigger is titled Some Dolls are

Bigger Than Others, a reference to the famous Smiths song “Some Girls Are Bigger

Than Others” (1985). Another, showing one of the dolls escaping the house via a rope

such that we only see the feet through the window, perhaps alludes to the teenager’s

suicide scene in Luchino Visconti’s well-known but heavily criticized film The Damned

(1969), which takes place inside a mostly empty mansion. Weyant titled this work

Escape Artist—I imagine Visconti himself here, fleeing the critics who panned his movie.

One particularly clever work is John, Weyant’s version of John Currin’s Anna (2004),

showing a woman’s face half-obscured by a candelabra. In Weyant’s painting a girl

playing cards is equally obscured by an almost identical candleholder. Cards are a

recurring motif in Weyant’s work, and relate not only to games like poker, solitaire, and

rummy but also to card tricks, positing the artist as a trickster who plays games with her

audience. This is very clear in her painting Self Portrait of a Gambler, showing four

playing cards that spell out Weyant’s first name, Anna (aces for the two As and 2 cards

turned sideways for the Ns). The work effectively functions as the artist’s signature for

the overall installation, but it also speaks to the fact that this is Weyant’s first solo

exhibition, in which she, figuratively speaking, is putting her cards on the table.

Another painting involving cards might be related to Balthus’s The Card Game (1950).

Weyant has titled her painting From A to A, and we see in it only the leg and foot of a girl

hiding an ace of diamonds under a table. From A to A plays with the concept of “From A

to B” or “From A to Z.” Here, however, there is no start or finish line, no clear

parameters, neither beginning nor end, no particular alphabet to follow. There is simply

no place to go. Everyone is trapped in its hermetic, dreamlike scenario.

Other paintings continue Weyant’s exploration of art history without being too direct or

obvious. There is for example Put Yourself in My Shoes, in which we see an empty bed

with two legs sticking out underneath and a pair of black shoes nearby. Francesca

Woodman’s photographs come to mind. Tales of a Tub references another painting, this

time a historical one: Vermeer’s famous Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Widow (ca.

1657–59). Vermeer’s work made the news when it was revealed that there is a second

character in the room (whom someone else painted over after his death), which if visible

would give the painting a vastly different meaning. The idea of a hidden ghost in a work

is very much in line with Weyant’s interest in the surreal, the world of dreams, and the

uncanny. Weyant also looks to art with biblical content from the baroque era. The doll in

Lance in Her Side has had her appendix removed, resulting in a small scar on her torso,

which evokes the five stigmata of Christ crucified: the nails through hands and feet, the

scars from whipping, and a wound from the lance of a Roman legionnaire. The most

obvious example of a painting about the five holy wounds is Diego Velázquez’s Christ

on the Cross (1632). Simultaneously the appendix scar points, perhaps more

recognizably, to the 1939 book Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Despite all the references, one might say that with this initial solo exhibition of her work,

her first public offering, Weyant is exorcising the ghosts of her artistic past—the artists,

writers, and filmmakers who have shaped her sense of culture and the world. Now, we

imagine, after this first show, she can move forward with more freedom, having outlined

her particular conversation with art history. In our conversation about her show, Weyant

also mentioned Michael Haneke’s film The White Ribbon (2009), in which a group of

children terrorize a German village just before the outbreak of World War II, and

Charlotte, Scarlett Johansson’s character in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation

(2003). Coppola has made it a bit of a motif to use female characters who are mature for

their age, even a bit wicked. Weyant also mentions the malicious but seemingly innocent

Amma Crellin in the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects (2018) (based on the 2006 book by

Gillian Flynn), who also plays with a dollhouse. Weyant is fascinated by adolescent girls

who on the surface seem innocent but could stab someone at any moment.

One other artist and director who comes to mind in this context is Larry Clark, whose

1995 movie Kids (based on a screenplay by Harmony Korine, who would later also direct

Spring Breakers [2013] about a group of adolescent girls on spring break who become

involved with criminal activities) is perhaps the definitive work of hedonistic adolescent

behavior in regard to drugs, sex, and general unruliness. Yet it is not so much the (male-

initiated) rowdiness and outward abrasiveness of Kids that Weyant is interested in. Her

work is more devious and haunting, with a poetic undertone somewhere nearer the

German Romantic painters of the early eighteenth century. The transgressions are subtle,

under a veneer of presumed innocence—including her own.

The paintings have very distinct color range dominated by various shades of dark green,

including the beautiful Scalamandre (one of the world’s most prestigious fabric and wall

covering manufacturers) inspired wallpaper. While visiting her studio I noticed a

photograph from 2004 of her elementary school class in Calgary, with all the students

wearing the same dark-green uniform. Weyant confirmed that there is a strong

connection between her use of the color green in her paintings, particularly multiple dark

shades of green, and the greens of her adolescence, which in the case of the admittedly

ugly outfit manifested in rebelliousness. The theme of childhood purity corrupted by

violence (sometime by adults, sometimes otherwise) is heavily present in Weyant’s work.

It moves like a twisted fairy tale, threatening truth and forming a clear iconography of a

much less innocent future. Welcome to the Dollhouse tells a story of adolescent torment

that reverberates into adulthood. The works hint at a pervading, true-to-life wickedness

hidden beneath distracting veneers.