The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing
“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it,” reads Ecclesiastes. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” Jennifer Packer’s largest exhibition to date takes its title from this biblical verse. “The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing” at the Whitney Museum acknowledges the limitations of form—and of beauty, of art, of depiction—to capture the stories and sorrows of portraiture.
In Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Breonna! Breonna!) (2020), the large-scale work that opens this exhibition, a Black man in light-blue shorts lies supine on a too-small couch. His neck arches back beatifically and his body contorts in pain. Domestic objects dot the background—a fan, the obtuse angle of a chessboard and an iron—alongside abstract patches and swathes of color, as if not only the figure but the painter herself is simply too weary to go on.
A less literal form of elegy is visible in Say Her Name (2017), made to honor Sandra Bland, who died in police custody two years before the shooting of Breonna Taylor. The bouquet on view—a smattering of large green leaves, dotted with small blooms, a sheaf of mint and a lovely ice-pink rose—recalls funerary wreaths, but also the kind of blanched signifiers one seeks when saturated with a heavy sense of real grief and loss.
Biblical sacrifice and loss threads this show—For James (2013), recalls a crucifixion—however, the living, particularly fellow artists, are honored as well. Another skilled portraitist, Jordan Casteel, appears in Jordan (2014); curator Jessica Bell Brown in Jess (2018); and multimedia artist Eric N. Mack in The Body Has Memory (2018). And A Lesson in Longing (2019), a dreamy picture of two figures dressed with a simultaneously fluorescent and muted palette of red-magenta, draws its color from a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Jennifer Packer, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Breonna! Breonna!), 2020. Oil on canvas, 118 × 172 1/2 inches. Private collection. © Jennifer Packer. Photograph by George Darrel. Image courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, and Corvi-Mora, London