Magazine article Artforum International

Suzannah Sinclair

Magazine article Artforum International

Suzannah Sinclair

Article excerpt

Suzannah Sinclair's wistful watercolor-and-pencil renderings of the female nude are positioned within a discourse on the construction of desire in a culture organized around the power of the male gaze. Her source material insists on this particular framework: She uses images taken from men's magazines and advertisements dating from the early 1970s, the very era in which feminist critiques of the regime of masculine visual pleasure began to take hold. Seductively sprawled on beds, sofas, and rugs or suggestively propped in lush natural landscapes, Sinclair's sirens assume the familiar poses, props, and color palette of the vintage erotic object. At her recent Samson Projects show, the particular referentiality of these mise-en-scenes was sustained within the gallery itself: The artist installed a selection of furnishings and ornaments evocative of the period, which seem to have migrated straight from the pages of home decor magazines or from the sets of low-budget pornographic films (e.g., a flokati rug, a Harry Bertoia bench, a piece of eroded driftwood, and a potted palm). These objects serve to incorporate the viewer into the performative staging of the moment. The finishing touch was a large mirror, situated between two groups of paintings, in which viewers were presumably invited to contemplate the relations among the act of looking, the condition of selfhood, and the power of representation.

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Why would Sinclair so carefully resurrect and activate a moment in the history of feminism that has already been extensively theorized and polemicized by numerous artists and critics? In the aftermath of appropriation art and identity politics, her apparent aim--to coax the viewer into becoming a complicit consumer of ready-made desire while simultaneously revealing the ideological matrices that "construct" this experience--seems dated, if not somewhat pedantic. (Particularly frustrating are the two small seascapes, each the size of a magazine page, which didactically underscore the "romantic" as a fabricated trope exploited by the mass media.)

While it certainly remains crucial to critique the ways in which gender, desire, and power are intermeshed, the most interesting aspects of Sinclair's exhibition are the small flourishes that complicate her historicist agenda. …

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