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Human Nature: Dan Nadel on the Art of Ellen Berkenblit, Carroll Dunham, Sarah Peters, and Kyle Staver

Attempting to render what it is to be human is an absurd task, which makes it all the more urgent. We are long past the postwar afterglow of the “Family of Man” and other ultimately exclusionary attempts at unity. To know that and yet to pursue unironic ideas about our collective condition—despite all current political, social, and theoretical factors—is a profound act of faith in art. The artists Ellen Berkenblit, Carroll Dunham, Sarah Peters, and Kyle Staver are creating internally consistent speculative spaces in which to explore and, possibly, recuperate the idea that art is capable of representing what it’s like to be human. These “worlds” are empyrean, prelapsarian, suspended in an archaic “time” that exists outside of time. Shaped and inflected by ancient myths, Biblical stories, and other deep strata of human culture, but also by twentieth-century popular illustration, these artists’ work suggests a simultaneous longing to return to Eden and an awareness that we cannot do so—and that even if we could, Eden itself likely wasn’t so Edenic...

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