Folk Wisdom


In the Bedroom, Claudette Schreuders’s sixth show at Jack Shainman, might make you think you are about to walk into a gallery full of erotic sculptures, and while there are a few of those, the predominant mood is surprisingly one of Catholic prudishness––what piety can stultify into when it meets the everyday.

Guilty Party.

Guilty Party.

We are greeted by a sheepish girl leaning slightly towards us, looking guilty of something. Walking towards her, we pass a dead parrot––a carved and painted bird lying feet up on a plinth (what John Cleese might call an “ex-parrot”) and the thought strikes: perhaps the bird’s untimely end has produced such a look on our friend’s face. Perhaps she is the culprit.

“Guilty Party,” the name of this carving, is the largest in the gallery, and the only one which stands on its own two feet. She feels like she’s one of us and maybe is there to give us a tour of her wooden dolls. They range from an innocent looking young boy holding a fawn to a copulating couple, lying stacked man-over-woman.


If you were to picture Puritan sex (and I don’t suggest you do) it might look like this––wooden and awkward, with the wife staring dead-eyed at the ceiling. (It is appropriate that these sculptures are carved in wood, so stiff are their postures.)

The imagined lives of these characters might seem far-fetched, but presiding over another erotic pairing, titled Little Table (perhaps you can guess what it looks like) a crucifix hangs, and the tone of pious remove is reinforced.

The President,  an image of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa

The President, an image of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa

This crucifix, however, replaces Jesus with a little boy wearing a blue polo shirt and knee high socks. Through him, the white cube of the gallery takes on additional meaning and represents the humble whitewashed walls on which this crucifix might hang in the home of a believer. Nearby, the naked body of a woman sprouts flames as if the image of a martyred saint (that is, if Catholic artists ever included pubic hair). What is the god Schreuders worships?

In this show, reverence is reserved for the everyday. Carved with sincerity, these wooden figures have an intentional folk sensibility. A bust of the current South African president (Schreuders is from South Africa) is echoed across the gallery by a bust of a nondescript boy in a white shirt and tie. Schreuders might be in the business of conflation, of using the space of the home to collapse the hierarchies we have constructed beyond it. Politicians sit with us at our dinner tables and we martyr ourselves for our families. Rendered in wood in an honest hand, these sculptures speak a domestic reality in which God and politics mingle with the mundane.

Claudette Schreuders: In the Bedroom

Jack Shainman (20th Street)

Until June 22

Hall Rockefeller