Must-See: Chloe Wise’s Sinister Smile

At Almine Rech, Brussels, the artist’s laughing figures boldly address consumerism and female vulnerability 

BY Evelyn Simons in Exhibition Reviews | 02 MAY 24

This review is part of a new series of Must-See shows, in which a writer delivers a snapshot into a current exhibition 

Manically grinning womxn, posing alone or in pairs, give shape to a cynical chorus pulsing unease throughout Chloe Wise’s Torn Clean, her fourth solo exhibition with Almine Rech, and first in Brussels. The show is a parade of band-aids, exposed body parts, trash and laughter. A haunting depiction of a palpable contemporary malaise, it captures the last slivers of decency before the collapse, frenzied courtesy amidst societal and environmental destruction.

CHLOE WISE ...cured! Like meat, 2024
Chloe Wise, ...cured! Like meat, 2024, oil on canvas, 1.5 × 1.2 m Courtesy: © Chloe Wise and Almine Rech

Evoking the grand traditions of portraiture, nudes and still lives, the artist explores how human vulnerability is lived in the damage we inflict: on the planet, on others and on ourselves. Subverting the vanitas motif, Body Part (2024) displays mundane objects ranging from scar cream to band-aids and olive oil, exposing the useless excess of waste we produce. For Wise, band-aids act as prosthetics, covering up the existential pain we are supposed to laugh off. They feature throughout her paintings, and are blown up in leather, crocodile and latex in Variety Pack and Body Situation 1 (both 2024), appearing tangible and worn over, like discarded skin.

Chloe Wise, Permission Deficient, 2023, oil on linen, diptych, 2.1 × 1.8 m. Courtesy: © Chloe Wise and Almine Rech; photograph: Thomas Barratt 

Wise’s subjects are hyper aware of the burden of sustaining society’s pretences and are not afraid to address their status as objectified consumables. Portrayed smiling, mouths show off bloody gums and saliva-covered teeth; bodies writhe in agony; veined hands  though impeccably manicured – grasp at each other or at their own estranged bodies. Everything is cast in hellish hues of ochre and orange. Some canvases are even slashed in two. Do you want me with or without my breasts? the artist mockingly impersonates her protagonist in Permission Deficient (2023). She points out that smiles rarely appear in traditional portraiture, they are reserved for the deranged or the court jester. Perhaps her womxn are both. I cannot help but recognise myself in these desperate creatures, driven to insanity by the disastrous state of the world whilst expectations for societal politeness remain upheld.

Chloe Wises Torn Clean is on view at Almine Rech, Brussels, until 25 May 

Main image: Chloe Wise, Body Part, 2024, oil on linen, 1.2 × 1.5 m. Courtesy:  © Chloe Wise and Almine Rech; photograph: Dan Bradica

Evelyn Simons is a curator and writer based in Brussels.