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“Ambiguities arise when a detail is effective in several ways at once,” William Empson wrote in his foundational work of literary criticism Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). The narratively cryptic details of Louise Giovanelli’s work are rife with loose, lax meaning. In each of her five cinematic canvases hung throughout Moon Grove’s Georgian-style rooms, we see the same anonymous young woman’s face in seductive, religious, or hallucinatory throes: Is she acting out a holy ritual, or ingesting psychoactive pills?

Giovanelli’s source material is the bizarro world of film and media that surrounds us and gurgles in our living rooms. Close up, her depictions of celebrities shed any resemblance to the actors and break down into mottled patches and pointillist brushwork, the paraphernalia of illusionism. Eyes do a lot of work in these paintings, slipping back into their sockets, the whites looming at the edges. The artist invests portraits with high drama, evoking an uncanny feeling of suspense. The viewer is led to imagine what might happen next, or what might have happened before, without being able to define the vaguely troubled, emotional flavor of the moment at hand. Time and again, she presents us with the same ethereal scene, one that would otherwise disappear in the fleeting temporality of a cult movie.

Many influences are claimed, though mostly to formal ends. Their garish neon-green haze riffs on Munch’s The Sick Child, 1885–86, while the tight cropping echoes 1970s cult-film frames. The Trecento master Duccio, for instance, may have left his mark with glowing atmospheric effects and verdaccio complexions, but Giovanelli’s canvases, striking in their simplicity, gesture toward a more ecstatic, and perhaps sinful, mode of worship. Her work provides a type of escape, a certain equivocation. Such is the strange, transubstantiating power of Giovanelli’s paintings, poised between revelation and intoxication, the sacred and the profane.

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