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Cecily Brown, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

The massive 2017 triptych that gives this show its title, Where, When, How Often and with Whom, is a complex but inscrutable composition. Its left canvas depicts what appears to be a shipwreck (or at least a vessel tossed on a storm), while the center is occupied by a mass of figures who direct their apparently alarmed attention not at the foundering vessel but outward at the viewer (unless we are to imagine a shift in viewpoint, so that the viewer is at sea with the boat); on the right, a single figure lies sprawled out with another kneeling alongside. The painting brings to mind the refugees arriving—or failing to arrive—on the southern shores of Europe, and a text accompanying the exhibition informs us that part of the central canvas was inspired by the notorious 2016 photographs of French police on the beach at Nice confronting a woman wearing a burkini because it was not considered “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.”

The impact of this work, painted with all the energy we’ve come to expect of Cecily Brown, is diluted by the triptych’s size and uncertain visual focus. Her every brushstroke feels declarative, yet her imagery, in this painting, loses some of its confrontational edge. On a more contained scale, the ambiguities attendant on her constant play between image and abstraction present the viewer with urgent questions. One of the best things about this survey, curated by Anders Kold, is the rhythmic way its installation alternates between small and large-scale works so as to encourage closer looking...

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