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Gallery interior with a Thomas Woodruff Painting

Installation view, Thomas Woodruff: The Dinosaur Variations, Vito Schnabel Gallery, New York, NY, 2024; Artworks
©Thomas Woodruff; Photo by Argenis Apolinario; Courtesy the artist and Vito Schnabel Gallery

Once upon a time, beholding a Thomas Woodruff painting could be exhausting. So many invented details—even tiny ones have details. So many clever ideas. Then we notice the art-historical references both obvious and obscure. And the drawing—it’s always flawless. Not a clumsy gesture anywhere; everything is exquisitely articulated and moves gracefully in space. So much diligent work and scholarship begging to be appreciated. No room for a viewer’s thinking except as worshipful supplicant. Images so dense with incident they seem like armor created to protect, or repel, or hide . . . well, what, exactly? Criticism? Insecurity? Fear of losing control?

But these new paintings! “The Dinosaur Variations,” Woodruff’s solo exhibition at Vito Schnabel, crawled under the skin. The overweening control that has always held the artist back here became so dramatically supercharged, so excruciatingly over-the-top amazing, that you had to laugh. In one five-by-seven-foot canvas alone (Maya Lacrimosa, 2023) —while a flaming asteroid framed by a formation of flying pterosaurs exploded multiple sparks—lava spewed, lightning streaked, rainbow auroras pulsated, and hundreds of individually rendered raindrops fell on a terrified and brightly patterned mother pterodactyl with ten ptero-chicks flailing among tons of multihued and many-petaled flowers, all sheltered under Mama’s bat-like wings. Amusing, because in the face of a world-destroying cataclysmic apocalypse foreclosing all possibility of control, the very demonstration of the futility of control—the irony at the heart of Woodruff’s Fragonard-on-crack presentation—becomes a celebration of The End...