Approach of Another at Make Room, Los Angeles Maiuri’s paintings both propose and deny the narrative legibility of social conventions
Overlapping pairs of manicured hands clutch shiny keys; an open mouth hovers above a heart-shaped locket. These are images laden with drama – yet curiously meaningless. In her first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, Julia Maiuri uses the visual lexicon of film noir to conjure an unresolved intensity, depicting the genre’s characteristic femme fatale in a series of striking theatrical oil paintings. The resulting images reframe the restrictive norms of their source material, exposing the slippery underpinnings of female representation.
The portrayal of women in noir perpetuated social conventions: femme fatales were punished for their pursuit of individual interests at the expense of male heroes. Excised from context, Maiuri’s paintings both propose and deny this narrative legibility. Caught mid-dissolve, two sets of eyes in Inside Information (2023) capture the glance of a woman in motion. The painting’s title implies hidden knowledge but forecloses its revelation. In Eclipse (2022) the shadow of a fedoraed man bisects a blonde woman’s face, suggesting an oncoming confrontation. The artist’s subjects appear stuck in time, their plans neither successful nor thwarted.
Maiuri’s technique disrupts the plot-driven formation of noir tropes. Her layered compositions recall the filmic cross-dissolve, which superimposed sequential frames to transition between scenes. But these paintings distort the temporal relationship between separate images, throwing their interpretation into confusion: in Measured (2022) the same woman appears with her eyes open and closed, the order of her actions undetermined. Has she just woken up, or died? A similar opacity inflects Letter to Another Julia (2023), where a sealed envelope faces the viewer, overlaid with the body of the female recipient – or sender. The letter’s contents obscured, and its intended receiver unknown, Maiuri’s careful composition negates the value of the original noir plot. These paintings collapse the narrative structures that created the femme fatale.
‘Noir’, historian Mike Davis writes, ‘insinuated contempt for a depraved business culture while it simultaneously searched for a critical mode of writing or filmmaking within it’. The dual – and duelling – motivations of noir remain present in Maiuri’s work, which balances the constraints of the genre with a novel deconstruction of its images. Removed and restaged, Maiuri’s representations of the femme fatale offer a metonymically rich terrain that emerges from the narrow confines of cinematic history.
Approach of Another at Make Room, Los Angeles, through 6 May