Emily Elizabeth Goodman

Newsletter

“Pangaea” at City Gallery, Lexington


The exhibition Pangaea — now on view at City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington — brings together the disparate practices of Patrick Smith and Robert Morgan in a way that illuminates how the same ideas and impulses can permeate in different ways across both generations and media. Juxtaposed closely in this exhibition, the similarities ring out, making clear elements of both artists’ work that would likely be overlooked in the context of a solo show. As a show, Pangaea, therefore, functions in opposition to the supercontinent from which it gets its name; while the landmass dissipated creating cultural and ecological divisions that have marked humanity since our emergence as a species, the exhibition ultimately unites distinct individuals and shows the shared nature of their art and lives in so doing.  

Detail of Bob Morgan’s sculptural assemblages

One of the starkest distinctions between Morgan and Smith is how each man approaches art making. Morgan, a sculptor now in his 60s, has always identified as an artist. He has been making art out of found objects for as long as he can remember. Morgan’s practice has been consistent for decades, making assemblages that are complicated and congested amalgams of various items, ranging from goat horns and religious figurines to rubber snakes and car parts, all of which he covers with bright colored paint and patches of glitter. 

Smith, on the other hand, is a painter who came to art making relatively later in life, around the time he was an undergraduate at Transylvania University. Now in his 30s, his practice is still evolving, and he conceives of his practice as a direct reaction to his surroundings. For instance, his recent works — which consist of  small, intimate and hyperrealist portraits —simultaneously reflect the regional tradition of intimate craft practices with regard to their scale, while also working against the abstract tendencies that dominate both the painting practices taught in art schools in the area and the looser styles that characterize folk and outsider art in Appalachia more generally. As such, Smith’s practice is more informed by the particulars of time and space than Morgan’s, a notion that is further underscored by the generational differences between them. 

Various self portraits by Patick Smith

Yet despite these differences, Morgan and Smith’s works share a considerable amount in common. For example, both artists explore issues of queerness and sexual difference in their works. Patrick Smith’s work deals with elements of visible queerness and difference through his engagement with gender and sexuality as performance. His self-portraits, for instance, often play with elements of drag, with Smith appearing heavily made up and, at times, dressed in women’s clothing from various (sub) cultures. 

Self Portrait in black top, Patrick Smith

In these images, Smith never appears to be passing as a woman, per se, but rather complicates elements of masculinity by adopting women’s dress. For instance in one Self-Portrait, he appears in a sheet black top, with heavy black eyeliner, and pink lipstick, with his mouth pursed to a kiss. His face gazes directly out but his torso is slightly turned with one arm bent at the elbow and raised behind him and the other wrapping around his belly, adopting a pose often used by women models in fashion magazines. Though Smith has adopted feminine elements of dress and gesture, his gender performance is somewhat incomplete. His shaved head, muscular arms, and hint of a five o’clock shadow remind us that Smith is a man. As such, he is queering the conventions of gender performance, embracing elements of both masculinity and femininity in a way that celebrates deviation from heteronormative and patriarchal conventions of sex and gender.    

Moreover, for Smith, all of his portraits are performances. He often describes his sitters as “getting into character” and for his self-portraits Smith allows his appearance to be styled by various friends who collaborate with him. As such, these works are not emblematic of the subject’s lived experience, but rather illustrate how conventions of gender and sexuality are performed moment by moment. 

Installation shot, “Pangaea” at the Downtown Arts Center

The performative nature of Smith’s work stand in contrast to Morgan’s practice, which is largely derived from his personal history. Morgan, a gay man himself, has been a prominent figure within the LBGTQ community in Lexington for decades. He is widely known for his role as a caretaker having tended the sick and dying here during the A.I.D.S. epidemic in the 1980s and 90s and caring for the legacy of queer folk through his role as the founder of the Faulkner-Morgan Pagan Babies Archive. His art practice has been, as such, largely informed by both his lived experience in and his research of LGBTQ history; he notes that most of his works examine themes of “A.I.D.S., Insanity, Alcoholism, and Drug Addiction,” afflictions that have commonly plagued the queer community and further marginalized LGBTQ folk. 

Bob Morgan with sculptures

Morgan’s affinity for the marginalized manifests in the work he creates. His assemblages are made from piles of junk, objects whose intrinsic value has been lost or was never fully appreciated. Morgan collects these items and transforms them into something new, something with an aesthetic quality that is elevated and is meant to be seen, rather than to hide. That many of these assemblages of people whose experiences were similarly marginalized — like the teenaged drug addict that Morgan cared for and whose nightmare forms the basis of The Island of Lost Souls — and that Morgan himself has felt marginalized in similar ways imbues the sculptures with a particular kind of powerful resonance.

Religion, like queerness, is a theme that is explored in both Morgan’s and Smith’s work. As with his explorations of LGBTQ struggles, Morgan draws from his own religious upbringing in Catholic school as the basis of his work. Each of the seven works on display in this exhibition features an oversized vintage doll, which Morgan has posed and covered with various objects — often including devotional items like figurines of Jesus or religiously symbolic items like swords and snakes. To Morgan, decorating these figures  is reminiscent of the way that The Infant of Prague is dressed and put on display in the chapels of countless Catholic churches and schools, like the one Morgan attended as a child. Yet these sculptures aren’t simply Catholic in character. Some appear to have a more clearly Hindu iconography, like the allusion to Shiva in The Horned Toad, and others involve the hybridization of multiple religious traditions like in Pangaea. Morgan asserts that the appropriation of religious iconography is central to his practices, noting “I steal from every major culture,” and citing a particular predilection for Byzantine, Egyptian, Mayan, and Hindu traditions. 

The religious character of Smith’s work is more subtle. Some of his portraits employ elements of dress and gesture that are reminiscent of the long history of religious icons. For instance, the first painting of Armani, depicts the sitter with their head draped with a pale pink cloth, much like the veiling of the Virgin Mary in many Renaissance portraits of the Madonna. 

“Skull on Red”, Patrick Smith

Smith has also called upon religious symbolism in his depictions of skulls, both in portraits, like the one held by Pablo and on their own. Within Catholic imagery, skulls have often appeared at the base of crucifixion scenes to depict the connection between Adam, the first man created by God, and Jesus, his son. Similarly, skulls are prominent in Protestant imagery, specifically in the form of the Vanitas, a genre of still life that was popular in the Netherlands in the 16th  and 17th centuries, in which the skull serves as a reminder that material objects cannot transcend the mortal plane and thus faith and good works are essential for transitioning into the afterlife. 

Placed side by side, Smith’s and Morgan’s works balance each other out to create a fuller picture of each artists’ respective practice. The overt role of religion in Morgan’s work, for instance, helps to clearly draw out those elements at play within Smith’s. Conversely, the highly legible engagement with performative queerness in Smith’s hyper-realist portraits primes the viewer to read Morgan’s very symbolic assemblages more deeply. The result of this compilation of two different artists with two very distinct practices is ultimately a greater understanding of both artists’ work and the issues they explore. As such, Pangaea, on the whole, illuminates how the differences among artists and their work can ultimately reveal their overall similarities. 

Arts

A Hidden History of Black Men and Women in Kentucky

The central gallery of the the International Museum of the Horse, situated in the Kentucky Horse Park, is comprised of a single corridor that snakes its way along two floors depicting the historical relationships between horses and humans from the ancient Assyrian chariot horses and jousting steeds of medieval Europe, to the horses that helped move Conestoga wagons westward during the era of Manifest Destiny and the Thoroughbreds that draw millions to the races at Churchill Downs and Keeneland today.

At first glance, this equine inspired institution might not seem like a place to find a deep exploration of the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic white supremacy in the American South, yet punctuating the middle of this sprawling timeline is a new permanent exhibition entitled “Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf” that complicates the narrative history on display.

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

This new installation, which opened April 20, 2018, makes a clear attempt to convey the overlooked contribution of black men and women, both enslaved and free, to the rich horse racing culture of Kentucky and the United States more broadly. Using person-centered language, including multiple narratives, and incorporating strong explanatory notes to help fully contextualize the experiences of the men and women who worked in all elements of this industry, the show addresses the horrific realities of slavery and segregation head on, analyzing the relationship of these practices to the development of horse and racing cultures in Kentucky. As such, the exhibition neither equivocates nor exculpates these institutions and demands viewers to consider the legacy of oppression with regard to contemporary equestrian practices.  

One of the ways in which the exhibition faces down the hard history of slavery and segregation in the United States—and specifically in Kentucky horse racing culture—is the emphatic use of “person centered language” throughout the exhibition. More recent scholarship has involved a re-evaluation of the terminology we use to describe the practices of slavery; as Lucy Ferriss notes in a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education: “There’s been a debate about the language of slavery—or slaving, as some writers prefer to call the institution—for several years. The changes that many have proposed […] put the emphasis on the humanity of people who were brought to this continent against their will and forced to work in bondage for generations.” 

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

The curators have embraced this practice in their extensive didactic text, using the term “enslaved persons” instead of “slaves” and emphasizing fullness of the lives of each individual featured; the narrative texts, like those discussing Charles Stewart—who is described as “Farm Manager, Jockey, Horseman, Enslaved”—include the fact of enslavement, as opposed to solely focusing on that element of his lived experience, highlighting the whole human life that Stewart lived, for which slavery was only a single part. While such a gesture could run the risk of minimizing the drastic extent to which enslavement impacted Stewart’s life, the didactic text unabashedly acknowledges that Stewart’s role as a horseman was definitively linked to his experience of enslavement, and includes excerpts from his own biographical narrative from an 1884 edition of Harper’s magazine, a facsimile of which is reproduced below it.  

Moreover, Stewart’s narrative is one of many that are included in this exhibition, providing multiple accounts of black men and women’s lived experiences in the Kentucky racing industry during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The viewer is immediately presented with the variations of experience in the form of trading cards highlighting eight different figures—Ansel Williamson, Charles Stewart, Harry Lewis, Shelby Pike Barnes, Jimmy Winkfield, Isaac Burns Murphy, Marshall Lilly, and Edward Dudley Brown—that the audience is invited to take upon entering and is entreated to find the corresponding didactic text within the space of the installation.

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

In addition to these narratives, the exhibition highlights the experiences of several individuals who contributed significantly to black horse culture more generally, including Dudley Allen, who served as the Quartermaster Sargent in the “Colored Cavalry” of the Union Army during the Civil War, and Eliza Carpenter, a formerly enslaved woman who participated in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1893 and expanded the horse and racing industries out West. By presenting various experiences and perspectives, the exhibition avoids the pitfall of tokenism and expands the understanding of the variations that existed within the lives of black men and women living and working during the eras of enslavement and segregation. 

Beyond simply presenting multiple personal narratives, the installation contrasts those stories with a considerable amount of historical explication in the form of signs marked “History 101” scattered throughout. These texts directly confront the complicated legacy of white supremacy both in the practice of slavery and the systematic dismantling thereof. For instance, the placard “About the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution,” discusses the reluctance of Kentucky to ratify the 13th Amendment—which ended slavery nationally on December 18, 1865—until 1976, noting that “With the end of the Civil War, increased raids, beatings, and lynchings by vigilante groups made the Bluegrass countryside a dangerous place for the newly freed.” This text, therefore, challenges the common misapprehension that the transition from enslavement to freedom was smooth and beneficial for all, and that Kentucky, as a border state, was only passively invested in maintaining the practice of slavery. 

The harsh reality of life for black men and women in enslavement and under Jim Crow is also documented through ephemeral objects and images around the exhibition. Photographs of enslaved people engaged in arduous labor appear alongside many of the tools they used. Images that show the clear dichotomy between the white spectators and the black horsemen who trained and rode the animals during segregation accompany journalistic accounts of the hardships and exploitation that these men faced in an effort to earn a living. Combined with the multiple narratives and the historical explication throughout the installation, these images offer a stark contrast to the celebratory history that exudes from the rest of the museum’s exhibitions. 

“Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf”, installation view, Courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park.

Yet the curators have clearly gone through great effort to help the viewer experience this confrontation thoughtfully and introspectively. Within the exhibition space itself there are two points where the viewer is asked to reflect upon the information presented. At the “Conversation Station,” for example, the curators have posed the question “Based on the lives of Charles Stewart, Ansel Williamson, and Harry Lewis, do you think black horsemen were as highly revered as the horses they groomed and trained? Why or why not?” and provided the audience with post-it notes and pens to write their responses. The question itself incites the audience to deeply consider the ways in which the practices of slavery worked to dehumanize those in enslavement and how rhetorically and practically a slippage existed between enslaved persons and beasts of burden and the interactive nature of the activity allows the viewer to participate in the conversation that the exhibition is seeking to incite. 

Moreover, being the only site in the museum to focus more on the history of humans than the history of horses and focusing solely on the experience of black people, this exhibition does run the risk of reinforcing the aforementioned conflation of African Americans and animals. Yet it is abundantly apparent that the curators were aware of such an historical linkage and thus have carefully provided physical room for reflection helps to unpack the problematic elements of that linkage. This effort, in turn, works to combat that particular issue. 

The curators have gone through great lengths to confront the long history of racism in racing culture, providing the audience with a considerable amount of explanatory texts, ephemeral images and documents, and opportunities for reflection to help the audience process the thorough history presented in the space. This exhibition very clearly unearths the hidden history of black men and women within Kentucky horse culture and does so in a way that seeks to valorize their achievements and lived experiences while also confronting the challenges they faced and the legacy of white supremacy that we are still grappling with today.   

Arts

From Many Angles: Daniel Ludwig

Spread over three distinct locations, in three different municipalities, the retrospective of Daniel Ludwig’s practice—currently on view at Heike Pickett Galleries in both Versailles and Lexington and at the Georgetown College Art Galleries—presents a multidimensional perspective on the artist’s work over the last 35 years. Working primarily in painting, with a handful of works of sculpture, Ludwig has developed a clear aesthetic that combines elements of “the great art of Europe” with that of American vernacular painting; presented in this distributed fashion, this retrospective offers the viewer the opportunity to ruminate on specific elements of his practice in relation to the totality. 

Heike Pickett Gallery & Sculpture Garden: Versailles

Nestled in a 1792 Federal House just off of Main street, Heike Pickett gallery is a small, independent gallery, open to the public on Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm or by appointment. Ludwig’s retrospective dominates the main gallery space, comprised of one large room with various alcoves that serve to further divide up the area. The age of the space, which exudes with the creak of every step along the hardwood, stands in stark contrast to the body of work on display, focusing exclusively on Ludwig’s work in the last several years. 

Daniel Ludwig, “Graces”, Oil painting, 60″ x 46″, 2017

From this exhibition, it becomes readily apparent how much Ludwig’s recent practice has been informed by a reimagining of canonical themes and motifs. For instance, one of the first images that you encounter is his work Graces, in which Ludwig presents three nude forms—only one of which is identifiably a woman—standing in interconnected poses, with free floating drapery dashed around and between their bodies, clearly alluding to the “three graces” of Greek Mythology and the myriad representations of these figures. Yet Ludwig subverts the conventional depiction of these figures by imbuing the work with a heavy use of arbitrary color, rendering two of the figures in a pale purple, as well as invoking the visual rhetoric of Surrealism by portraying the figures as somewhat translucent, revealing elements of the background landscape through the outlined form of their bodies. 

This juxtaposition of many different painting traditions thus offers something altogether new, an illustration of the spectral presence that these historical depictions maintain within the current art world. They make clear to us as viewers the long legacy of art history that the artist must engage with in the name of innovation and provide one indication of the implications of that gesture. Other works in the space similarly engage with this long, Euro-centric art historical convention, making clear that as Ludwig looks back on his own art practice, he is both acutely aware of his personal history and his position as inheritor of the legacy of the European canon. This balancing between old and new, canonical and avant-garde is thus further affirmed by the relationship between the works and the architecture of the gallery.

Heike Pickett: Lexington

Whereas the Versailles gallery is an historic setting, the satellite space at CMW Architects — which is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm — is a new, more industrial space. Located in the active offices of an architectural firm, the gallery space comprises of a long corridor, adorned with work on both sides, culminating with a large piece on the wall opposite the hallway at the far end. It is a unique sort of aesthetic experience, one in which the viewer may expect to have their experience interrupted by the sounds of typing or the faint smell of one of the employee’s perfume, all of which, undoubtedly will have some form of impact on their engagement with the work. 

Daniel Ludwig, “Figure and Clouds IV”, Oil, 40″ x 30″, 1989

Proceeding through the space you get a greater sense of previous elements of Ludwig’s practice, revealing a different tradition that is prominent throughout his body of work from the middle of his career, specifically the rhetoric of American Realist painting. While Ludwig frequently cites the influence of seeing European Masterpieces during his time abroad in college, it is also abundantly clear in works like Bathers (1989)—which features three nude swimmers wading out in the ocean—the debt that Ludwig’s practice owes to the traditions of artists like Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and, especially, Edward Hopper. Ludwig’s attention to the light and shadow, and the volume to which he gives his figures combined with a clear painterly quality of his brushwork and the high concentration of color all give the image this sense of a uniquely American experience within a singularly American landscape.

The particularly pastoral character of this work plays off the industrial nature of the space in a way that parallels the viewing experience in Versailles. Yet again the visual elements of the artwork diverge from the setting in which they are immediately found, allowing the viewer to experience the stark character of these scenes through the distinctions and contradictions that emerge in their presentation in this particular site.  

Georgetown College Art Gallery:

Whereas the two previous sites have a clearer focus on a particular era of Ludwig’s practice, the exhibition at Georgetown college fits more in line with the traditional retrospective, a fitting gesture given the conventional nature of the gallery space itself. A well-lit white cube in the art building, walking into the Georgetown College Art Gallery, the viewer can expect to engage with the work in a more conventional and academic way. It is only fitting then that this space offers a more comprehensive survey of Ludwig’s practice, highlighting his early career, starting in the mid 1980s and extending to his most recent work. 

Daniel Ludwig, “Anne with Necklace”, Oil on Board, 24″ x 16″, 1982,

In this space the viewer can see clearly how elements of European and American painting have always been present in Ludwig’s career, but that the extent to which he engages with one tradition over the other varies at any given moment. For instance, during the 1980s he made very clear references to German Expressionist traditions, such as the almost uncanny parallels between Paula Modersohn-Becker’s 1906 Self-Portrait and Ludwig’s Anne with a Necklace (1982) with regard to color, texture, and composition. At the same time, his more recent works, such as the painting Disfruta, maintain a clear reference to early 20th Century American art, evoking the social realist elements of works by artists like Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and Kentucky’s own Edward Melcarth through the clear depiction of industrial labor and American manufacturing in a manner reminiscent of WPA muralism.  

The context of a university gallery thus affords a more academic and historical consideration for his work, preparing the viewer to engage with the full range of his practices through the site specific cues that prime the viewer to approach the art in a particular museological manner. 

A Complete Retrospective

Taken as an aggregate, these three galleries do ultimately form a cohesive retrospective and offer the viewer a unique way to consider the life and career of a particular artist. Because it is impossible to see all three shows simultaneously or even within quick succession, the viewer is given a chance to pause and reflect between sites and to consider elements the various narratives surrounding Ludwig’s practice constructed in each space. It is, therefore, a unique viewing experience to construct an understanding of an artist’s work through deliberately stepping away and then back towards his work.

In addition to offering the viewer an opportunity to see concentrated pockets of work and take time to consider the show in each of the three spaces, the distribution of the exhibition across three different gallery sites also means that, more so than in other exhibitions, the experience of the viewer is heavily informed by the order in which they see it. Recognizing this to be the case, my experiences reflect only one possible permutation with which the audience can engage with this exhibition and should be noted as such. Moreover, what is unique about this model of a retrospective is that it presents multiple angles from which one can consider Ludwig’s work, effectively creating a more open curatorial experience through dispersed viewing.   

 Reference Note: Fowler, Harriet, “Essay,” Daniel Ludwig Retrospective (Georgetown, KY: Georgetown College Art Galleries, 2018) 8.

___________________________________________________________

Daniel Ludwig: New Works 2016-2018

Heike Pickett Gallery & Sculpture Garden

110 Morgan Street, Versailles, KY 40383

Through June 8, 2018

Hours; Friday and Saturday, 11 am- 4pm and by appointment

(859) 233-1263 www.heikepickettgallery.com

_____________________________________________________________

Daniel Ludwig Retrospective: 35 Years of Artworks in Kentucky Collections

Ann WrightWilson Gallery at Georgetown College

Through May 25, 2018

Hours; Wednesday through Saturday, 12 am-4:30 pm and by appointment

(502) 863-8399

______________________________________________________________

Daniel Ludwig: Selected Paintings and Drawings

Heike Pickett Gallery at CMW

400 East Vine St. Lexington, KY (859)233-1263

Through June 8, 2018

www.heikepickettgallery.com

Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 am.- 4 pm.

Gallery Hop with the Artist, Friday, May 18, 5- 8 pm

Arts

The Nude: Brutal Beauty at Lexington Art League

Nudity and nakedness are complicated and often overlapping concepts in the history of art; while historically, nudity has been associated with heroism, virility, divinity, and confidence, and nakedness considered a state of vulnerability, shame, and lasciviousness, contemporary artists have continually blurred the boundaries between these two concepts, leading to new understandings of the bare human form.

In the Lexington Art League’s exhibition, The Nude: Brutal Beauty, now on view at Loudon House, the connotations of both nudity and nakedness—as well as their points of intersection—are on full display, creating a show that questions the historical provenance of nudity in art, as well as our own understanding of nakedness today. Furthermore, building on the dialectic between nudity and nakedness, the works in this exhibition challenge us to consider other diametrically positioned notions, specifically the distinctions of past/present, West/East, human/animal, internal/external, or dead/alive. The result of the exhibition, which spans two floors and contains work by over 20 artists from around the world, is a thorough survey of many of the complex issues that arise when considering the stripped down human form.

One of the prevalent issues the exhibition examines is how our contemporary understanding of nudity is not only informed by but also challenges that of previous moments. Two artists in particular, James Volkert and Kiana Honarmand, appropriate canonical, art historical portrayals of nudity in order to make comments on the state of the body in art and society more broadly in our current time. For instance, in his piece la beaute, comme la verite: After Courbet, Volkert has appropriated two (in)famous images by 19th century French realist Gustave Courbet, Sleep and L’Origine du Monde, both of which brought scandal upon Parisian society for their frank depiction of women’s sexuality and the sexualized female body. Volkert has placed the works on rotating slats, the handles of which employ another historical nude—the Venus de Milo—and which can be turned to create one of 2048 possible combinations, pointing to the shifting and ever changing conceptions of nudity and nakedness from antiquity to the Victorian era to the present day, a notion further underscored by Volkert’s inclusion of Courbet’s own words: “La beaute, come la verite, depend de l’epoque ou l’on vit” (“Beauty, like truth is relative to the time one lives”).

James Volkert, “la beaute, comme la verite: After Courbet”

Like Volkert, Honarmand also considers the implications of historical nudes on the present moment, but her appropriation of imagery—largely history paintings from the Italian and Northern Renaissance—involves a more direct intervention on the form in an effort to make an explicit comment on contemporary politics, specifically covering over the naked bodies with lines of Farsi poetry, blocks of color and pattern, and, occasionally, sculptural elements, all of which are derived from traditional Iranian art. The resulting covering of these bodies with this kind of imagery is a direct comment on the programs of censorship and modesty in Honarmand’s native Iran. This gesture also calls into question the role of nudity in both Western and Middle Eastern art and society, both historically and in the present.

Kiana Honarmand, “The Birth of Cupid 2”

In addition to attending to temporal and geographic dualities with regard to the nude, the exhibition also sheds light on how nakedness is a defining line between humans, the only species to clothe our bodies, and all other animals. For instance, Canadian artist Jessica Sallay-Carrington’s ceramic pieces, Self-Love, Preening, and her serial works Bits and Pieces 1 & 2, involve a hybridization of animal heads—often derived from more than one species, like the rabbit face and ears, lamb’s neck and goat horns in Bits and Pieces 1 & 2—that rest upon a naked human body. Similarly, in his photolithographs, Bathers and Nora, Lexington-based artist Todd Herzberg also juxtaposes bird heads on human bodies, but in these cases, Herzberg makes clear that the hybridity is merely masquerade, as we can see the eyes of each of the humans peering out through a slit in the bird’s neck. In both artists’ works, however, Herzberg and Sallay-Carrington call attention to the limits of associating human nakedness with animal nudity.

Jessica Sallay-Carrington, “Preening”

Todd Herzberg, “Bathers”

At the same time, other artists explore the very human nature of nakedness, looking at nudity and exposure as a fundamental aspect of our shared experience as a species and as a community. In his photographs The Head and The Body I, Jim Allen juxtaposes anatomical imagery—a diagram of the intracranial structures and of the muscles of the torso, respectively—onto the body of an older man. The result is an exposure not just of the nude body, but of the naked structures that lie beneath it, revealing the viscera that is common to all humans. This gesture thus uncovers that nakedness does not stop at the surface level, highlighting the vulnerability that is implicit in both exposing our bodies internally and externally.

Finally, while Allen’s work calls into question the duality between the internal and external forms of the human anatomy, Vinhay Keo’s work Surge from his series Sanctuary/Purgatory considers the dichotomy between the living body and that of the dead. In this image, Keo, whose body has been painted white, appears splayed out in a white cave partially buried within a mound of shredded paper; his head, arms, and one leg emerge from the pile, giving the appearance of a dismembered corpse in the process of decay. The whiteness of his skin evokes the image of bodies covered in lime that have been found in mass graves at the site of numerous atrocities, further underscoring the idea that this body is, in fact, deceased. Yet the position of the body, the tilt of his head and the haphazard placement of the arms, might also suggest that he is not quite dead, but rather has endured “la petite-mort”—a French euphemism for orgasm—and has fallen back into the embrace of the pile as a result of this ecstasy. This ambiguity thus reveals how nakedness has a connotation of both life and death, especially in considering the body during moments of temporary or complete surrender.

Vinay Keo, “Self-Purgation”

Many other complicated distinctions arise throughout the work within the exhibition, especially when considering the sheer volume of art that it contains. As a survey of the nude in contemporary art, and one that aimed to allow the artists to “present depictions and investigations of their own perspective on the human figure in all its rawness and wonder,” it has certainly succeeded to capture a breadth of different interpretations thereof. The exhibition therefore builds on the long tradition of nudity and nakedness within art history and does so in a way that shows that there are still further avenues to explore even within the most conventional areas of artistic portrayal.

Images provided by the Lexington Art League.