I don’t think I’m just quibbling about this question of how many paintings there were, because the question of “how many” was part of the question being posed within the canvases too. They seemed to enmesh, in a quasi-Cubist manner, many iterations of a female figure doing some impossibly pretzel-like dance moves while wearing outrageously high platform shoes. But was I meant to see them as many dancers, or multiple views of the same dancer? The paintings invite the viewer to untangle the fragmented and intertwined bodies and account for all the pieces, even if the works’ titles, High Spirited Chimeras With Hypnotic Digital Masks I and II (2018), warn that any such conclusion might be illusory.

On two facing walls were another pair of matching or complementary works, Butterfly Moth in Transcendental State and Black Widow Anarchist Hourglass (both 2018), which might best be described as shaped-canvas relief constructions, made from colored fabric, hardware, and belts. Their imagery continues that of the two paintings: legs, feet, platform shoes—but in contrast to the unending energetic swirling of body parts in the paintings, the ones in these symmetrical and geometrically ordered pieces, seemingly locked into place by chains or belts, suggest a pose that is held fast and transformed into a symbol.

But what’s the symbol of? Either power or powerlessness—or maybe just the performance of them. Again, as the canvases’ sweeping dynamism leaves me in a state of doubt, so does the declarative simplicity of these wall reliefs. What Culprit risks, unlike Jacobsen or Osborne, is an art that’s too blatant, too in-your-face—but then that blatant art turns out to be as elusive or reticent as the others. Online I found a 2014 interview with Culprit—who was then going by the less unlikely name of Chelsea Culp—in which she was asked about what she wanted her work to give its viewers. Her response—“I like when sensitivity to nuance makes it difficult to say what something is”—could as easily have been the answer given by Jacobsen or Osborne.

That hidden connection, the fascination with the transitory aspects of perception that evade articulation, probably explains what attracted me to the work of three artists otherwise so different. But it doesn’t answer the question I started with: Who’s the underdog? Well, I don’t think it would have been much of a spoiler if I had told you straight off: all of them. The other day, when I mentioned that his plea, “Choose the underdog,” had inspired my next article, Photi looked embarrassed and told me, “Actually, it wasn’t me saying that. When I e-mailed you I was with Colter in San Francisco—he’s the one who said you should choose the underdog. I just added that I thought it should be him.” Jacobsen wasn’t pleading for himself, but for any artist working against the odds by looking for things that are, as he says, as subtle as the ‘b’ in subtle. And if you find it, what then? I think again about what Dlugos wrote: “It /dissipates faster than / our eyes can record.”