David & Schweitzer Contemporary, Brooklyn

Desperate times call for decadent measures.

We are in a state of constant war on a ruined planet, leaving the lights on, murmuring about extinction.  The women in Heather Morgan’s paintings kick up their heels in celebration of life as they contemplate death, aware of the tragic absurdity of our situation.  We are doomed, so we should be dancing.

Morgan's sultry and damaged women cavort unrestrained through opulent settings with commanding self-possession. Here are lingerie and stockings galore. But these are no playthings. These women are performing their identities, and it is a tense and fevered display, aching with self-consciousness.

The possibilities for self-creation are illustrated in a succession of vivid characters loosely based on the artist, her acquaintance, and recognizable cultural constructions; cigar-chomping chicks, androgynes, harlots, fighters, dancing queens, the starved, the tragically hip, the desperate (but not serious).

Vivid and theatrical as these images are, the viewer is thrust into discomfiting intimacy with these defiant vixens. These works invite the viewer to look and to covet, presenting an alluring world that is also potent and seething. Beauty quivers with pain and flaw in the distorted, luminous subjects that populate Morgan's paintings. The figures stretch out louche before the viewer and bravely offer themselves with a conflicting, penetrating gaze. These unflinching yet vulnerable pastel heroines become all the more unknowable, as they reveal themselves in their fractured splendor.