Visual Art

Bubblegum Princesses and Porn Mannequins

A Season of Vagina-Havers

Bubblegum Princesses and Porn Mannequins
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Courtesy Of The Artists And Soil
‘PACIFIC MOTEL’ Serrah Russell and Maggie Carson Romano’s Folded Newsprint.
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There are still two months or so to see Seattle Art Museum's all-women exhibition Elles, but the crush of other all-women exhibitions organized to coincide with Elles is winding down. To list the names alone would take an entire review. Few of them were really curated, and few claimed any theme beyond art made by a group of vagina-havers. You might take them as an introduction, like, hey, have you heard of Sonya Stockton? No? She's the one who showed a delicate intrauterine device jutting up between the cushions where a solitaire should go in a black velvet ring box (it was called I Do) at Gallery 110 in November. She showed a dream catcher woven of pantyhose, too.

But these shows have also afforded an opportunity to talk about taking women's work seriously—or not. Take Debra Baxter. At a talk this fall at the Hedreen Gallery, D. W. Burnam said he began writing about art in order to defend Baxter after he heard artists dissing her 2009 Howard House exhibition for being too pretty. It was pretty, but by no means dimly so (and isn't a Joe Park or Jeffrey Simmons show pretty?). It involved crystal-encrusted brass knuckles, and soft and wrinkly twisting necks carved out of hard white alabaster, and an alabaster hyperventilation bag—all arranged on a custom-made table so refined as to unmistakably reference upper-end retail. Perhaps it was the table that caused the discomfort? Baxter has only moved more in the direction of playing on preciousness: Her large alabaster heart vomiting a heap of crystals (Big Mouth [Heart on My Sleeve]) is at Greg Kucera Gallery, and Platform Gallery recently showed her big photograph of two congruent objects absurdly facing off, searching for mutual recognition—both white, both billowy, but one a wad of crumpled Kleenex and the other a formation of crystals.

The premise of the Ladies' Choice exhibition at Greg Kucera is that each of the female artists invited by the gallery invited another female artist, and one wishes they were presented clearly in pairs. It's a crime to have separated, for instance, Alice Wheeler's portrait of a perversely pink-painted "bubblegum princess" in a serene Northwest landscape and Stranger photographer Kelly O's brutal shot of porn mannequins. The conversation they need to have is long and involved.

Some of these shows enabled us to see artists anew. Gala Bent has never seemed so wonderfully dirty as in her 2012 painting Heavy, Honey at G. Gibson's Homage to Elles. I'll just let you imagine (or Google) it. Also in that show is a small, viscous, sexy oil portrait of an oyster by Rachel Maxi, who just finished a full show of oyster paintings—there's a joke or a poem in there somewhere combining the oyster with her old favorite subject, the dumpster—at Sugarpill.

Three sculptures by Lauren Grossman involve swollen, red-nippled, milky human breasts. They appear, glowing like pornographic beacons, on the chests of black (graphite-rubbed porcelain) whales. "Whales actually do have mammary glands," Platform owner Stephen Lyons says. The pieces have a terrific freakishness. Each whale is attached to a scaffolding of thin sticks tied together at their tiny ends by artificial sinew. They're called Study for Leviathan's Wife 1, 2, and 3. A few months ago, Grossman's solo show at Platform included another whale, this one pink and potato-like, studded all over with eyes—except each eye was a false tooth. It was a perfect work of horror. The whale was held up by a bar that gripped it too tightly around its belly; this may have explained the protesting upward slant of its tail. It had no face.

SOIL's current show, Pacific Motel, is a collaboration by two women artists. For those who are counting (and I counted), this year saw one all-female and one all-male show at the artist-run space. But you can immerse yourself more in Pacific Motel than most of the Elles-related stuff (an exception: Julie Alpert's controlled explosion of domestic patterning at Gallery4Culture last month, which was both cabin-feverish and pure jeweled pleasure). The exhibition arose from a weekend trip to a roadside motel taken by the artists, Serrah Russell and Maggie Carson Romano—or so they say. There's no travelogue here: no details about location, what happened, why they went, the pretty or the depressing view from their windows. Instead, there is a walked-in pile of dark sand on the floor near the entrance. Lurking in the haphazard sand like something lost are a few shimmers that, on closer inspection, are a thick gold key; motel keys are thick and gold, you think, the opposite of flimsy motel doors.

On two perpendicular walls, down near knee level, are two framed inkjet prints of faded photographs of pieces of blue fabric—but they immediately signify swimming pool. (The title on the handout: Swim.) They look more like a swimming pool than should be possible. This is the maximum inverse ratio between verisimilitude and efforting-at-verisimilitude. A white towel has been tossed in the middle of the gallery floor. A sound piece—a shower running?—plays overhead.

A slice of the front window of the gallery has been sprayed from the inside with a saltwater-and-bits-of-foam solution, which has dried in place so that it looks like a rainstorm is in progress outside. Maybe when a rainstorm is actually in progress outside, you can't even tell the art is there.

Romano's pieces here are Platonic evocations of the experience of a brief motel stay, but are still somehow specific. I keep picturing a woman at the side of the bed, one white towel wrapped around her, her head turned so she can dry her long hair with another white towel. But there is no woman, no hair in this show. Russell's contributions are photography-based, about the photograph's role in remembering a trip like this one. Some of her shots are the equivalent of glances around the room, or in the parking lot (maybe). Others are carefully paired and collaged images—two things that later seem connected and fraught with whatever the trip meant or didn't mean. Like Romano, Russell draws you in, but keeps her secrets, and lets you keep yours. recommended

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alpha unicorn 1
"I will not be other than I am: I find too much content in my condition: I am always caressed." A Young French Witch, C. 1660

http://www.richardkehl.com/published-boo…
Posted by alpha unicorn on December 19, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Report this
2
a)"dissing pretty" is the "loser dumb shits" way of reckoning ignorance and absence of intellectual hard work when it come to art critique and understanding-period. Any loser starts with that shit and run...

b) apparently Alice Wheeler (nor Mr. Kucera) have ever heard of Nan Goldin. Wheeler's work is such a shameless rip-off of the 'Nan' schtick that it's sad really. If being in the right place at the right time (Kurt Cobain pre fame) is being a good artist then...

c ) Haven't we established "The Hedreen" is nothing but a tragic dumping ground for the pretentious losers in this town to parade around their egos? Come on now people-forward, not backwards-please!

d) pink potato whales studded all over with eyes and a big false buck tooth...WOW!!! amazing (in several senses of the word)...

e) "OMG this is NOT how Expedia described this place...YUCK WHAT IS THAT???...Is that a cum stain on the bedspread...SHIT, I'm not smelling THAT-GROSS-YOU smell it!...What's that smell???...ugh this carpet is so filthy...I just can't stay here, SERIOUSLY! I JUST THREW UP IN MY MOUTH! Who's towel is that? I'm outta here. What...OK, how about we just make Art about it and just split? KOOL..."

only in Seattle..shame on you Ms. Graves. Any chance you hear what an idiot you sound like???

Posted by northwest mystic on December 19, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Report this
3
Northwest Mystic, sticksandstones, Hibrow Gorilla: this troll has been posting the same comments on every single review for more than a year. So there's no point in me addressing that earless megaphone.

But for anyone else who's interested, Alice Wheeler takes pictures of strangers at county fairs and parades and other large public gatherings. They're usually people who have constructed some theatrical version of themselves, and by shooting them, she's almost just recording their wish to be recorded. They're almost always a little down at the mouth, almost an inverse class to Tina Barney's upper-crust portraiture. They pictures often include a vivid, almost electric, palette of colors. Each print is large and glossy and solo, and usually there's only one person in it.

Nan Goldin, meanwhile, captures her closest friends, usually naked and in bed, sometimes dying, sometimes having sex, often in pairs. They're private shots dragged public. They're usually presented in slide shows. The colors are drab.

The two artists don't make images that look alike, or that are alike.
Posted by Jen Graves on December 19, 2012 at 11:58 AM · Report this
4
Jen-funny but maybe you can't hear the friggin' pot calling for you! And for just how long have YOU been writing-critiquing(?)-posting the same repetitive BS-that narrowly focused,puffed up worshipful crap around this town? Judas Priest! You should win an award (if they gave one) for the single most detrimental force responsible for killing Art in this town with you cliquish antics. Seriously-you really suck! All the more reason to call your crap out!
And do your research, Nan Goldin captures the theater of life-her life-in large format 30x40" (sound familiar miss Wheeler?) c-prints with glossy surfaces and rich vibrant colors. Sometimes presented in slide shows but most frequently in large glossy photos. These also include landscapes (Wheelers are also way TOO similar)), interiors, still lifes, etc. not just what you chose to see myopically-yet again. Goldin's personal journalistic aspects are far too similar to what Wheeler seems to love to boastfully associate about her work in conversations revealing her connections to moments portrayed-the likes of "Kurt this, that girl did that, this concert was that"...you just dont get it. And Tina Barney is not a smart Wheeler comparison.
But we must remember this-your a pop culture slinger and shit talker, not an intellectual.
Posted by sticksnstones on December 19, 2012 at 11:05 PM · Report this
5
Well, I'm an outsider to this debate, and am not terribly famililiar with either artist, but #3's description of Goldin's work is so generic as to apply to a number of photographers, maybe even the majority.

I mean, seriously, claiming that glossy surfaces & rich, vibrant colors depicting landscapes, interiors, still lifes, containing journalistic aspects, etc...is somehow the domain of one particular photographer is completely absurd.

If you're the true intellectual here, #3, you need to work on your critiques. I mean, I have no idea who is right, but using such general descriptors of an artist's subject matter & medium is not at all convincing. If Wheeler's landscapes are "too similar," how exactly are they too similar?
Posted by virginia mason on December 20, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Report this
6
Sorry, Jen, I obviously meant #4's description.
Posted by virginia mason on December 20, 2012 at 2:18 PM · Report this

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