What’s on view: Erotic female food fight portraits, some with snakes and cigarettes
Whitney Kimball: Gia Condo takes back the power in female portraiture with strap-ons, beards, snakes, and cigarettes, despite often choking on spaghetti and having bananas thrown at her head. In paintings, she flips the Mona Lisa (itself, a drag queen) on its head, both trashing it and dressing it up as other roles (Jesus, a manly Glinda, and a cow). That sounds like a dead horse, but it’s not. Her mash-up of worship and total debasement was completely engrossing. I know you guys are going to disagree, but I think it’s by far the most interesting show I’ve ever seen at this gallery.
Corinna Kirsch: Of course I disagree! The entire show has the feel of a 101 project. Let’s call it “Appropriation Week: Let’s reinterpret the Mona Lisa!”—but it’s gone awry. I’m not even sure if there’s a place or a need to appropriate the Mona Lisa into a powerful female figure, but even if that were so, Andrea Mary Marshall’s wig-wearing, Dolce & Gabbana covered, jewel-laden Gia Condo is not a figure to incite notions of power. She’s a diva and she seems self-absorbed. Reincarnation (Gallery Cut) shows a nude Gia Condo posed with a range of objects and animals running the gamut from snakes to BDSM gear. That’s so fashiony and when she’s stroking her own strap-on, it doesn’t seem like an affront; she’s touching herself, for herself, and there’s no place for me or anyone else.
The paintings, which show the Mona Lisa reinterpreted through the styles of Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and the like, are just as uninspiring.
Whitney: I don’t see this as any more self-absorbed than any other art, Condo just happens to be using her body. It’s not like these are all glamour shots, either—most of the time, she acts like a human trashcan. Is she self-absorbed because she’s hot? And what’s wrong with jerking the strap-on? If it’s about considering the viewer, I’m not exactly Tom of Finland’s target audience, but I can still enjoy the work.
Corinna: Nothing’s wrong with jerking off with a strap-on; it can be bold, empowering, and all that. I just didn’t buy it here.
Paddy Johnson: Yeah, I didn’t think of the persona as self-absorbed either, but that may be because I didn’t think of it at the time, not because I disagree with the sentiment. There are more than 30 works in the exhibition, and they are all self-portraits. I can see how that conclusion might be drawn.
I’m not sure I understand why these portraits have to be understood as a product of the persona. Isn’t it more empowering to “take the power back” yourself, rather than imagining someone else to do it for you? I worry that this complaint imposes my own desires for the work more than is appropriate; I like activism to function as activism and I think novels and theatre are a more effective means of developing complex characters. Even putting aside those beliefs though, I still feel like the conceit gets in the way of actually experiencing the work. It’s like adding guaze to a view of the mountains. It just muddies the view.
Speaking of the work, I’m not sold on the six Mona-Lisa photos. The only obvious reference to the painting in a lot of these works is Condo’s three quarter pose; you can barely call it a reference without the crossed hands. In one image we see her with spaghetti on her head and baguette in hand. This apparently is a reference to France (where the sitter is from) and Italy (where Leonardo DaVinci is from), and it’s exactly the kind of information I’d rather read on a wall card. In another image, she sits with three pigeons, one on her head and two on either sides. I have no idea what she’s trying to say with that one.
My favorite is probably, Self Portrait as Gia Condo as The Trash Bag Mona Lisa. Here, the Mona Lisa reference is clearer thanks to the placement of her hands, her breasts are exposed and she’s covered in garbage bags. The picture is glamorous, especially in contrast to the source, and she looks like a Helmut Lang model. Lang isn’t exactly a feminist, but he did at least have a way of monumentalizing the female body. That’s more than achieved here.
There’s also a whole gallery filled with graffiti and fliers strewn across the floor. One print out reads “I gave birth to Courbet. This Pussy Can Paint Too!” Naturally, there’s a finger masturbating Courbet’s labial painting The Origin of the World and a woman wearing a gorilla mask à la The Guerrilla Girls. I thought it was pretty funny when I saw it, but now, I can’t remember why.
What’s on view: A film, canvases based on the film, and drawings by a self-taught artist of clothes and city streets
Corinna: Well, this show was a nice surprise. Kerry Schuss, now located in Lisa Cooley’s former spot, showed a very cleaned up version of the Lumiere Brothers’ film Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory in Lyon. LeVeque, a filmmaker teaching at Bard, found a dirty, scratched up copy of the film (most of them are, I imagine). In comparison with the original, LeVeque’s 43-second-loop smooths out the figures, and they appear to levitate off the ground, like ghosts. Maybe it’s nostalgic, but that seems to be too simple an interpretation. More than the work itself, I like the thought behind it, like “Look, here’s something dirty and I’m going to clean it up.” It’s just a simple, archival impulse, and that’s that. Of course, no matter how good the clean up, there’s bound to be some unexpected results, found here in the film’s “ghostly” qualities. I’m still not sure what the title, Redundant Frequency means, though.
I think we all liked Pearl Blauvelt’s drawings in the backroom, right?
Whitney: I actually was not too impressed with the film. It’s a nice visual effect, but for me, that was it.
And yeah, I loved Pearl Blauvelt’s drawings. It’s everything people fetishize about outsider art with the creative spelling and weird perspective, but that’s cuz they’re sincere. She’s got an interest in organizing the world that’s thoughtful and sensitive and isolated- all the vulnerable parts that tend to get filtered when you’re making work for shows.
Paddy: Ditto. These are primarily pencil drawings of clothing on lined paper, and they appear to be made for people with very broad shoulders. Their stiffness is what makes them charming; it’s as if they’re for people who are equally awkward.
My favorite of these drawings was a-typical to the suite and in the back office; a four-way intersection in a city. The piece is very flat, like the clothing, and you could tell that Blauvelt oriented the paper in different directions so her hand did not smudge the drawing. The perspective is different in each corner. Oddly the drawing reminded me a little of her renderings of clothing; she uses outline in each, and the texture of the work remains similar. The work is just a joy to look at.
What’s on view: Human-sized pastel cones, irregularly-shaped canvases, and glitter
Corinna: This exhibition looks like a joke. The paintings hang absurdly high on the walls, Tumblr-generation slogans like “premature nostalgia” appear near the cone sculptures, a net art-style printed sheet has been draped on some painted timber, and there’s glitter splattered on the floor. All this seems like some Alice in Wonderland-type party. But I’m not convinced, and I don’t feel like eating cake at this tacky place.
Whitney: I wouldn’t say “tacky” bothers me so much as this is just really confusing. The idea is translating poetry to Raskin’s visual language, but I don’t have a clue what poem this is.
Paddy: The narrative behind this work ridiculously complicated. Just so we’re clear about that’s going on here: Raskin is using Arthur Rimbaud’s Vowels (circa 1870), to produce the monochromes in the show. According to the press release, Rimbaud assigns a color to each of the vowels in the alphabet, “A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels”. Then there’s the rest of it, which apparently has to do with the dead tightrope walker from the prologue of Friedrich Nietszche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and a hybrid character named “Pinn”.
Very little of this, of course, is apparent in the work. Mostly, I enjoyed the work for creating what appeared to be a circus ring and hanging a bunch of corporate minimalist work above the ring. That arrangement seemed about right for me, even if the message is confused.