In the last 2 weeks I’ve viewed 36 gallery shows and two museum shows. That’s a handful and I don’t quite know where to start but I’ve been contemplating them for the last few days and have decided to write about 28 of them. So here goes, one by one.
I witnessed what was a majority of figurative representational painting and a slightly few but significant pseudo-abstract paintings. Many involved a melange of female figures that were degrading, monumental, regal, pornographic, grotesque, sci-fi fantastic, exaggerated and disguised. I also noticed paintings whose pictorial plane was jam packed with forms, patterns, motifs, and repetitions, and overwhelming image overload that were spellbinding and addictive. There was more than one show that used mirrors as a foundational base and a key element of the end result and photography that were purely figurative minus Sugimoto at Gagosian that I don’t really care to write about. The group shows were minimal but the White Columns “Looking Back” exhibition was A plus plus.
Let’s start with Nikki Lee and Cindy Sherman. One is younger than the other and from different backgrounds but they both use photography and personal history as a point of departure in disguise, imitation, appropriation and identity as a female cultural participant.
Layers, Rome, 1,2,3 2007, Digital C-print, 18×41 inches
Ms Lee is Korean (represent!) and is well known for partaking in stereotyped identities from various ethnic and social backgrounds, whether or not gender plays a role in its type. She’s costumed herself as the hip hop queen diva, the yuppie businesswoman with stringy hair and tacky lipstick, and the metal studded leather jacket, plaid pants dyed hair drugged out punk chick. She made a mark on me and confirmed the simple ability for asians to adapt and assimilate to any given environment, but maybe that’s just me. Nonetheless, in this new series of work she focuses purely on herself as Nikki Lee and how others may perceive her through objective impersonal street artist portraits. This series is not half as convincing and significant as her older works but does successfully keep in dialogue in a reverse role play of her previous projects. Rather than her taking an external identity, she has others participate in signifying her personal identity, albeit in a tourist infused kitsch money making street portrait form. Location and the perspective of the portraitist’s portrayal is supposed to play a specific function in determining her identity but it seems contrite and arbitrary. In formalism speak, the varying scale took away the redundancy of the repetitiveness but that too seemed an arbitrary task, especially the ones in monumental scale. The layering of wax/translucent paper in which these portraitists used made the images ghastly and disorienting, as if she were a ghost figure ominously and slowly protruding out of the wall to haunt you, and there were many of them. creepy. I was startled how none of them looked the same and made me curious to know what she might have actually looked like in comparison. Perhaps there should have been an actual photograph of her bust to be used as a key.
A NYT review here.
Untitled, 2008, color photograph, 96.25 x 65.25 in
With Cindy Sherman comes a load of art historical and theoretical baggage. I studied her heavily in school and couldn’t help bring a congratulatory smile and nod to her new series. It’s a confirmed fact that she still kicks major ass in doing what she does, which involves disguises in all shapes and sizes from kooky freaky goons to naive vulnerable teenage hitchhikers, to this current series, the cultured upper class patrons in there high nose overdressed regal. This series is so well in tune with Sherman’s artistic career, which has spanned a near three decades, working as a reflection of her very own status as a well established, well known, well studied historical figure in art history. It’s almost as if she’s reflecting her age and experience directly onto her photographic canvas and tweeking it to fit her infamous vocabulary of mockery, caricature and pure ridiculousness. From the very beginning she’s masterfully manipulated facial expression, costume, setting and perspective to fit to each image accordingly. A subtle perk of the lips, a wider than normal opening of the legs, a subtle tilt of the head, and of course the drag queen make up, emphatically and dramatically alters one character to another. This new series is far more rooted in the real world, I have seen such figures roaming around the city and in the art scene, with their flawed wrinkled make up and dry ironed shining attire, and she also successfully employs the monumental scale to further emphasize their too good for you status. The fake backgrounds emphasized the staged performance of the image reminding us to take this as a point of departure in reflecting and politely mocking those who walk in and out of the art scene. I found the gaze especially haunting, there is not one that isn’t challenging you to that exact stare, as if to say, yes, look at me, I dare you. But there is also a humble modesty to the gaze, a resistant but inevitable acceptance of time and decay. The digitally manipulated backgrounds with the swirls and vibrations made the portraits even more twilight zone ish. I hold very high regards to Cindy Sherman and her never ending ability to engage in both light hearted humor and content rich art theory.