At the center of Deana Lawson’s Guggenheim exhibition is a donut-like hologram, continually enfolding rainbowed auras of energy into its center, as if energy incarnate. Centropy—the coming together of energy, or the opposite of entropy—is the guiding light of the show, the culmination of her winning the Hugo Boss Prize.
Arrayed around the corners of the exhibition are ritual objects. Here, a pile of quartz, stacked like firewood. There, lattices of photographs—school portraits, family pictures, historical photographs—interlaced with rectangles of glittery pink crystals, like a schoolgirl’s scrapbook in three dimensions. Some works, indeed, have holograms embedded within them, as in Deleon? Unknown (2020), which encases a shimmering and ambiguously bejeweled object beside the pregnant belly of a half-scribbled-over portrait of a woman in repose.
Mirrored frames around each large-scale photograph cast trapezoidal frames of light on the tiled gallery floor. Lawson delights in skewed angles, from the scalene lines of the carpet, bars, and triplicate splayed legs in Axis (2018) to the seemingly amateurish, head-height camera angle in An Ode to Yemaya (2019).
Juxtapositions, often jarring, always endearing, are also a common theme. See, for instance, Chief (2019)[pictured], in which the title character, sitting atop a sagging couch beside water-stained walls, gazes out at the viewer, head, neck, and wrists heavy with thick strings and bands of gold. Or Dana and Sirius B (2021), which combines a large, though pixelated, photograph of the brightest star in the galaxy with a tiny picture of Dana—who, to be fair, looks radiant in dark lipstick beside a metallic balloon.
Indeed, a number of photographs in “Centropy” are disturbed, distorted, shot through with light as if poorly produced or shoddily preserved. All the same, in their own way, they are incandescent, even celestial. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Deana Lawson, Chief, 2019. Pigment print. © Deana Lawson, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles