The Frick shows a painting by Jenna Gribbon in conversation with Holbein's Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
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The Frick shows a painting by Jenna Gribbon in conversation with Holbein's Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
Jenna Gribbon; photo: Nir Arieli.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Frick’s acclaimed reframing, ongoing in its temporary location known as Frick Madison during the renovation of its historic buildings, has given the public a chance to view collection highlights in a very different setting. In recent months, the curatorial team has presented a project in the Northern European galleries that, over the course of a year, welcomes the voices of four contemporary artists. Each presents a single new work in conversation with an iconic painting from the Frick’s collection, with particular emphasis on issues of gender and queer identity typically excluded from narratives of early modern European art. This winter and spring, Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters continues with a painting by Jenna Gribbon (b. Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, 1978), shown with the portrait Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger. This juxtaposition follows the inaugural presentations by Salman Toor (b. Lahore, Pakistan, 1983) and Doron Langberg (b. Yokneam Moshava, Israel, 1985), whose works were on view this fall and winter alongside paintings by Johannes Vermeer and Holbein, respectively. This spring and summer, the Frick will present the final chapter in the series, a portrait by Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1985), shown alongside Frick works by Rembrandt.

Living Histories is jointly organized by Xavier F. Salomon, Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, and Aimee Ng, Curator. It is the most recent project in past years in a series of collaborations with living artists that have included publications and lectures, as well as installations at the Frick mansion by Arlene Shechet and Edmund de Waal. The artists collaborating on Living Histories—like so many of the Frick’s staff and the museum’s founder, Henry Clay Frick—are not originally from New York, but all chose this city as a home for their careers and relationships. To this project, the artists bring contemporary perspectives on Frick works, resulting in a celebration of the past and present that reveals the power of creating conversations across histories, geographies, and cultures.

Comments Salomon, “We have deeply enjoyed collaborating with a group of artists whose work engages with traditions of European art history. They have been most generous in sharing their thoughts on the power of our traditional figurative holdings, creating not only new paintings, but developing with us audio and video content accessible to audiences everywhere.” Adds Curator Aimee Ng, “We’re so excited to have Jenna’s painting at Frick Madison. Created in response to Holbein’s portraits of powerful men, her portrait sets up a new conversation with the Frick’s historic art and its legacies, speaking across centuries and in very different contexts to look at where we are now. When I think of Holbein’s portraits at the Frick—Thomas More (on loan to The Morgan Library & Museum while Jenna’s painting is up) and Thomas Cromwell—I think also of the defining events of their lives and their roles in King Henry VIII’s disposal of wives to bear a son. Jenna’s painting intrudes on that narrative, bringing to light dynamics of power, gender, and sexuality at play then and now.”

Jenna Gribbon (b. Knoxville, Tennessee, 1978) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her syncretic canvases draw on several centuries of painting: figures disporting themselves in a sylvan setting recall Fragonard’s fêtes galantes; interiors with swiftly articulated walls evoke the cursory backgrounds of Mary Cassatt; gently distorted architectural features summon the laissez-faire depictions of Karen Kilimnik. Sampling freely from various representational techniques and movements, Gribbon’s paint handling ranges from the virtuosic to the intentionally slapdash; fast, impressionistic strokes often abut minutely illustrated details, highlighting the artist’s interest in collapsing numerous pictorial strategies into a single canvas. Her work has been exhibited widely in the United States and abroad. She has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville; and the Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg (upcoming). Gribbon is represented by Fredericks & Freiser, NY and MASSIMODECARLO. This past fall Gribbon’s work was the subject of a solo exhibition, Uscapes, at Fredericks & Freiser, New York. MASSIMODECARLO will present a solo show in London in early 2022. A monograph of Gribbon’s work was published by GNYP GmbH in September 2021.

Jenna Gribbon questions conventions of portraiture, exploring gendered gazes, presentations of power, and ideas of viewership. Inspired by Hans Holbein’s acute attention to detail, Gribbon creates illusions of tactility in the painting of flesh, hair, fabric, and much else—testaments to the physical presence of the subjects and the painter’s acts of looking at them. Here, Gribbon intervenes in the traditional pairing of two historical men: for about a century, Holbein’s portraits of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell—mortal enemies in the English king Henry VIII’s quest for absolute power—have faced each other in the Frick’s galleries.

Gribbon’s What Am I Doing Here? I Should Ask You the Same joins Holbein’s Thomas Cromwell in the galleries. Standing in for Thomas More, the painting breaks the historical dynamic of two men in profile, her subject facing frontally, with legs splayed. Gribbon supplants the traditional male gaze with that of a queer woman artist, her subject of ambiguous gender. Her sitter wears six rings—to Cromwell’s one—and an intensely violet velvet suit and a red coat, the color and heightened textural effects verging on camp. Set under glaring light and in the home she shares with the artist, Gribbon’s subject is imbued with a theatrical quality, her torso and breast uncovered, bare-faced and unabashed in confronting the viewer. Gribbon’s painting is an homage to Holbein’s art and an exploration of histories and legacies, initiating conversation between portraits then and now, and viewers past and present.

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