Magazine article The New Yorker

Art

Magazine article The New Yorker

Art

Article excerpt

ART

An installation view of the exhibition "Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?," at the Andrew Kreps gallery.

American Beauty

The artist-activist Andrea Bowers takes her street-smart politics to Chelsea.

Recently, in a mash-up of MTV and Rene Magritte, "Saturday Night Live" aired "This Is Not a Feminist Song," a hilarious sktech about trying and failing to write a political anthem. A sample lyric: "Every woman has a struggle, and every struggle's real / But just try and write a song that captures every woman's deal." In her exhibition "Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?," at the Andrew Kreps gallery, the Los Angeles-based artist Andrea Bowers homes in on one real struggle--trans women's fight for equal rights--and ignites a high-stakes conversation on race, class, and gender.

It's not just Bowers's politics that are radical--though they're certainly far left of progressive. The sheer beauty of much of her work feels radical, too, notably a trio of eight-foot-tall photographs of the trans activists Jennicet Gutierrez (best known for challenging President Obama at an L.G.B.T. event), Johanna Saavedra (an advocate for Latina immigrants), and CeCe McDonald (who served prison time for inflicting fatal wounds in self-defense). The women have been glamorously styled to appear both runway-ready and ready to rumble. It's "radical chic," coined by Tom Wolfe as an insult, recharged as an agent for change.

The women's poses are based on historical protest posters, of which Bowers has an extensive archive. (Visitors to the gallery can sift through a few dozen striking examples, reproduced on cardboard and piled on a table.) The floral crown that Gutierrez wears in her portrait was inspired by a Cuban placard for International Women's Day, from 1972. (The image, a riot of colors, reappears in a radiant, ten-foot-tall drawing by Bowers.) What reads at first glance like a clutch purse in Saavedra's hand is really a brick, derived from a poster commemorating the Paris uprisings of 1968. McDonald's Grecian-style gown and angel wings are lifted from an 1891 tribute to the Paris Commune by Walter Crane, a British illustrator of children's books and a Wobbly.

Political art often sacrifices nuance to urgency. "Art is not enough" was the mantra of the collective Gran Fury, in the nineteen-eighties, when tens of thousands of people were dying of AIDS. It's a rallying cry that the trans community has updated, post-Caitlyn Jenner: "Visibility isn't enough." No, but in the image-conscious contemporary art world it's a good place to start.

GALLERIES--UPTOWN

Tacita Dean

Two years ago, in Australia, this British artist best known for her films debuted her first theatre piece: a fifty-minute-long monologue, performed by the actor Stephen Dillane. Two rolling cameras joined him onstage, and Dean has edited the footage into an astonishing film, in which Dillane reflects on family and death and recites excerpts from Shakespeare and Heinrich von Kleist. At times, we glimpse Dean in the front row, handing Dillane pages from a script; the work's complex interlarding of stage and screen becomes, by the end, a more personal union of Dean's and Dillane's crafts. The show also features still images of clouds and a sweet, silent-film portrait of David Hockney, but "Event for a Stage," which runs five times a day, is the reason to go--and to stay, watching from beginning to end. Through April 23. (Marian Goodman, 24 W. 57th St. 212-977-7160.)

David Hammons

This concise retrospective--a sampler, really--is a big deal, as Hammons shows generally are. Now seventy-two, the artist has, by choice, exhibited rarely during the five decades of his now-you-see-him, mostly-you-don't career. Comedy and spleen seesaw in his art. "In the Hood" (1993) is in fact the hood of a black hoodie, hanging agape, high up on a white wall of the gallery. It's rivetingly clever, but may strike some as menacing. "Traveling" (2002), a beautifully atmospheric grisaille, nearly ten feet tall, was made by repeatedly bouncing a basketball soiled with "Harlem earth" onto paper. …

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