Wynnie Mynerva’s first solo exhibition in the United States, The Original Riot at the New Museum, centers on the largest painting ever displayed at the institution. At 70 feet wide, it stretches across five curved panels, a dramatic saga of feminine celestial vengeance unfolding across the space, as the figure of Lilith takes out her right rib — known as “Adam’s rib” — and hands it over to Eve.
The exhibition is a reclamation of Lilith. Mesopotamian and Judaic mythologies identify her as the first woman, created from the same mud as Adam. Lilith has historically been represented as an unhinged, demonic femme, a danger to fertility and womanhood and deadly to men. Mythologies suggest that God cast Lilith out of paradise for claiming her equality with Adam, after which Eve was created from Adam’s rib so that she could be from him and serve him. Departing from the mythological story of Lilith’s eternal damnation, Mynerva creates her own fantasy, one where Eve and Lilith make a pact using Eve’s right rib, vowing to create a new world absent of patriarchal subjugation. This pact is what the artist calls her “alternative Genesis,” and its narrative arc spans the breadth of her painting.
In The Original Riot, shapeshifting limbs interrupt cloud-like forms, as demons and spiritual entities float freely across the panels. Angelic wings recede into the background while petal-like nipples, ultra-long nails, and exposed ribs emerge up front. With this exhibition, Mynerva demonstrates that Lilith’s strength is not that she is actually angelic; she is not and doesn’t care to be. Instead, what makes this reclamation necessary is Lilith’s undeniable dominance within the celestial realm that the artist constructs. The radical femme rules the heavens.
Located behind the gap between panels four and five of the colossal painting, the sculpture “The First Cut” (2023) features a brass display stand engraved with an entanglement of contorted bodies — representing a mythological meeting between Eve and Lilith, in which Eve removes the rib from which she was created and the two women create an alternative Genesis. Seeking to display a physical relic of the Genesis story, the artist had her right rib surgically removed for the show. “I wanted to have an artifact that proved that the story was true,” she says in a short documentary by the New Museum. The Peruvian artist’s rib is delicately balanced atop the thin, engraved brass display.
Through contemporary feminist expressionism, artists such as Cecily Brown and Juanita McNeely have ushered in necessary conversations about the state’s control over femme bodies. During the past few years, a new generation of young artists has gained prominence for their use of loose brushstrokes and contorted limbs to engage in feminist abstraction and semi-abstraction. Mynerva is part of this tradition, but she pushes the image of the femme body further by integrating a part of her own body and connecting it with mythological women who have been both maligned and repressed.
We need an excess of gestural painting to counter the historical images of women as bastions of respectability and compliance. With The Original Riot, Mynerva looks to riotous women to usher in new spiritual life.
Wynnie Mynerva: The Original Riot continues at the New Museum (235 Bowery, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through September 17. The exhibition was curated by Bernardo Mosqueira, former ISLAA curatorial fellow at the New Museum and current chief curator at ISLAA.