Magazine article Sculpture

New Museum

Magazine article Sculpture

New Museum

Article excerpt

The provocatively titled ?Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon? took on the politics of gender and identity with works by 40 artists, groups, and collectives. Avoiding the trap of using sexual orientation as an organizing principle and throwing out heteronormative or binary definitions of gendered identity in favor of a more fluid, inclusive, and performative model-one that refused limits and boundaries-the show?s organizer, Johanna Burton, with the assistance of Sara O?Keeffe and Natalie Bell, proposed a more activist curatorial model for how art about gender circulates in contemporary life.

A number of artists intent on moving beyond simple stereotypes shared a strategy of posing and drag performance. On several occasions, Justin Vivian Bond posed in the New Museum's front window as Karen Graham, the sphinx-like face of Estée Lauder cosmetics from 1970 to 1985. For Bond, Graham embodies an ideal, serving as the perfect vessel for homage and commentary. Bond developed this concept further in an installation that included watercolor portraits of the model, self-portraits of the artist, a table with a record player, and two chairs where one could sit and listen to Bond's LP Dendrophile and contemplate the artist's obsession alongside public and private fantasies of aspiration and fulfillment. Berlinbased Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz cross-dressed as 19th-century transvestites in their film Toxic, discussing the disparity between public stage and private experience in the Parisian demi-mode. Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel also combined reenactment with archival footage to commemorate and reclaim the joyful, emancipatory performances of the drag activist Marsha P. Johnson (1945-92), while the collective House of Ladosha startled visitors in the stairwell with drag parodies, video remixes, and appropriated commercials that deployed humor and inversion to disrupt assumptions about the queer body.

Many artists exploited the unruly potential of gender fluidity to upend engrained notions of sexuality and identity. Nayland Blake, for instance, performed several times as Gnomen, a hybrid bear/bison "fursona" of ambiguous sex and gender, who invited viewers to share their secrets and fantasies as a way of building new communities outside conventional sexualities.

Other artists focused on the intersection of gender and race. Mickalene Thomas's wall display of stacked monitors, Me as Muse, examined the objectified and eroticized female images of fabrics, patterns, and plants, paintings of nudes from art history, and images of Grace Jones and the "Hottentot Venus," until eventually the artist's own nude body posed as an odalisque filled all the monitors, while the singer Eartha Kitt spoke of her encounters with sexual violence, trauma, and discrimination. …

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