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“Is this serious or just pretend?” It’s a question that propels the drama of Rosemary’s Baby and haunts Jeffrey Deitch’s All of Them Witches, a group show organized by artist Laurie Simmons and curator Dan Nadel that draws its name from the film. In an early scene, Rosemary hides in a phonebooth and whispers, “All of them, all in it together. All of them witches,” underlining the life-altering consequences of whether or not people believe her. According to the gallery text, the show is less interested in these “real-practice” occult traditions than their “aesthetic influence,” ultimately neglecting the diverse spiritual and religious traditions the artists engage in the show. Are all of them witches? Like the haunted house soundtrack washing over the gallery, this show doesn’t seem to know or care.
The artworks are crowded on the walls, a horror vacui with repeating themes throughout. Many works depict enchanted landscapes: the murky waters of Allison Janae Hamilton’s Floridawater photographs (2019) suspend figures in ethereal postures, and tree limbs splay across a fire-orange sky in Austė’s acrylic painting An Hour of Ten Signs (1981). Others reclaim homes as sites of sexual empowerment—such as the oil painting Fireplace (2010) by Lisa Yuskavage, where female figures pose self-assuredly for the imagined viewer, rejecting the passivity of the reclining nude. Women Running Away From Houses (2020), Ariana Papademetropoulos’ archive of vintage pulp paperbacks, doesn’t quite match the seriousness of these other works, where boundaries of body and world become porous, enticing with potential transformation.
Other works focus directly on animal-human relationships, ancient mythologies and campy fun flattened into the same space. Where the queenly figure in Renate Druks’ painting Spring Fever (1979) seems to absorb the energies of the feline at her feet into her body, the format of Carolee Schneemann’s Infinity Kisses (1990-1998)—serialized photographs of the artist kissing her cat—seems more selfie than séance. Likewise, Marnie Weber’s intentionally garish Witch Totem (2016) and works like Judy Chicago’s Bast, The Egyptian Cat Goddess (2001) seem weakened by the presence of one another, where “witchy” tries to describe both playing dress-up and recovering traditions of the past.
Other artworks more explicitly engage ritual objects and traditions, like Guadalupe Maravilla’s Disease Thrower #3 (2019), a sculptural installation that recontextualizes headdresses and musical instruments as an Aztec-inflected site of healing. Shirin Neshat’s black and white photograph My House Is on Fire (2012) shows Islamic scripture inscribed over a male torso, scarring the body. In Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s painting And the Kingdom is Here (2020) mythical deer-like animals enter a modern church service housed in a converted cathedral, overlapping complex Christian histories with animism. Here and elsewhere, these artworks can transfix viewers with more religious literacy—not less.
All of these works and more negotiate boundaries of the human and more-than-human world in sophisticated ways, locating the show squarely in dialogue with subjects that its hands-off hanging style and gallery text actively avoid. More often than not, this “witchy sensibility” obscures the religious and spiritual concerns animating the works themselves, leaving viewers to sort out the real from make-believe on their own. Ironically, this show seems spooked by its own depths.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 20.