Magazine article Artforum International

Weighty Madonna: Rhonda Lieberman on "X-STaTIC PRo=CeSS". (Slant)

Magazine article Artforum International

Weighty Madonna: Rhonda Lieberman on "X-STaTIC PRo=CeSS". (Slant)

Article excerpt

MADONNA GOES THROUGH INCARNATIONS the way the rest of us go through tubes of toothpaste. When last season's soigne, spiritual Madonna appeared on Larry King Live in October, one marveled at how she constantly evolves: from her breakthrough MTV "Like a Virgin" moment, writhing on the floor in a wedding gown in 1984, to her more recent, mature work, writhing on the floor sporting a cabala tattoo in the "Die Another Day" video. Her latest avatar is now enshrined at Deitch Projects: I saw it as an allegory of forces within the buff megastar, where Darkness and Light battle 24/7, and she literally has to contort herself--even putting her foot over her head--to express that inner conflict.

Throughout history, Art has enabled the culturally empowered and spiritually ambitious. Enrico Scrovegni had Giotto; Philip IV had Velazquez; Madonna has top fashion photographer Steven Klein and a smart installation designed by LOT/EK. Recognizing that Art needn't languish in the high-culture ghetto, Deitch Projects decided to mount this weird, glam show when proprietor Jeffrey Deitch saw images from Klein's forty-four-page Madonna shoot for W(April 2003). Five pictures from that session were developed into Art, tricked out with video, animations, and sound and presented in five self-contained "chapels" inspired, according to LOT/EK, by the Caravaggios in baroque churches.

The mysteriously spelled "X-STaTIC PRo=CeSS" "deconstructs" the cult of Madonna while trading on her star power. She is exposed amid the trappings of her spiritual and theatrical practice: from yogi, prophet, and queen to freak and pole dancer. With the exception of one shot in full costume, she cavorts half-dressed in leotards, corsets, fishnet tights, satin character shoes, and the Ace-bandaged look favored by fellow star Matthew Barney. Knee pads and the powdered palms of the gymnast complete the ensemble. The sheer lavishness of the installation imbues the show with conviction; its well-designed, artfully "unfinished" bluster almost distracts from the ridiculousness of its apocalyptic posturing.

Entering the blacked-out, cavernous gallery, one first spots the hardworking pop star bending over backward--literally--giving her all for Art, even when menaced (or "guarded," Klein suggested) by wild animals. In this triptych of near-life-size projections, the upside-down Madonna is sandwiched by twin coyotes; their wire leads, and the elbows of their handlers, are visible--to emphasize, like the whole show, that the image is a setup. The beasts' heads move jerkily, digitally dynamized. The entire triptych is housed in an industrial-chic rig with exposed scaffolding, soundproofing, gadgets--designed by LOT/EK to underline the "constructedness" of the image and its cult. Whether or not you are a true believer in the Madonna, beware: All ye who enter the hip gallery enter the "X-STaTIC" cult of Glamour and Fame. The actual space is so dark one can easily trip--so watch out!

The holy-peep-show/sideshow vibe continues in the next Madge altar, which features the limber celebrity on a grimy table (in leotard, fishnets, and baby-blue heels), with her foot behind her head, uncannily echoing the anatomical drawing on the wall: a digitally palpitating kidney. …

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