Chris Ofili, “Dangerous Liaisons”
Twenty years ago, Chris Ofili caused a sensation in a show by that name at the Brooklyn Museum. A survey of the so-called YBAs—Young British Artists—who were taking the art world by storm back then, Ofili's contribution was a painting of the Virgin Mary with a ball of elephant dung attached to one breast—a material Ofili frequently used during his early career to reference his Nigerian roots. The news media, however, decided to characterize what was really an homage to the Holy Mother as an “excrement covered” Madonna, which brought down the wrath of both the NY Catholic Archdioses and former Mayor, current Trump toady, Rudolf Giuliani (who threatened to cut off the city's funding for the Museum). Ofili weathered the ginned-up controversy, going on to win Britain’s coveted Turner Prize in 2003. Over the years, dung has largely disappeared from his work—which, while always fancifully ornate and exultantly primitivistic, moved away from subjects that were, strictly speaking, Afrocentric to scenes of figures rooted in visionary landscapes. In the case of this show of canvases and works on paper at Zwirner’s uptown space, that mostly means vistas of undersea life—and love—as mermaids and mermen court and spark in fantastical surroundings under the waves.