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The Diabolical

2001–22, acrylic on wood, colored exactly the same as walls

Dimensions and arrangement variable


The Diabolical takes its title from the collection of short stories -Les Diaboliques ("She-Devils"), 1874- by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly. Each narrative features a woman who commits an act of violence, or revenge, or some other crime. Nguyen’s paintings are literal representations of vertical height lines, collected from varying sources, including movie posters (The Usual Suspects) and a Weegee photograph. Their vertical measurements are 100% accurate and faithfully hang on the wall at the appropriate height, to record and physically “size up the guilt quotient” of each viewer. Importantly, they are always painted the exact same color as the wall they hang on, as the artist’s coy play on erasure and power dynamics further tease history and provenance. The lines and numbers extrude from their surfaces, remaining visible layer after layer of cover up, their past staying indelible even as it is painted over. In the gallery, the paintings are splashed with garish colors that bleed over and underneath them, sometimes dribbling into suggestive texts that are intended to bludgeon subtlety. Populism, the artist implies, is not relegated to the working class.

Together, they envelope the viewer inside an "incriminating" space that subtly forces him into a position where the "gaze" is negated and swiveled in favor of the work itself. Lacking this traditional control, the viewer is thereby placed under the installation's watchful scrutiny, and looking becomes an act of paranoia, self-incrimination, guilt, and indecency.

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