Tag Archives: Frances Goodman

Arts

OFF-SPRING: New Generations at 21C Museum Hotel – Lexington

The line between childhood and adulthood is muddy and complicated. When we are children, we are constantly looking forward, seeking to emulate the adults that surround us through our schoolwork, our daydreams, and our play. As adults, we frequently gaze backwards, thinking nostalgically of times when our lives were simpler and when we had not yet made the choices that would come to define our lived existences, where regret seemed impractical because the world was filled with endless opportunities. Moreover, childhood and adulthood are diametrically opposed, with childhood being defined by the inexperience of adulthood and adulthood being determined by maturity not found in childhood, all of which comprises the complicated processes of “growing up.”

This push and pull between the conception of each life stage is at the core of the new exhibition OFF-SPRING: New Generations, now on view at 21C Museum Hotel in downtown Lexington. On the whole, the exhibition poses many complex questions about the limits of childhood, the definition of adulthood, and the processes that come to determine the passage between the two, presenting a multifaceted exploration of how the self is constructed through the internal passage of time we all experience.

One of the primary ways we transition from childhood to adulthood is through our education. Theoretically, the practice of attending school is designed to transform children into mature adults, capable of thinking deliberately and acting rationally on their own in the world. While this process could—and some might argue, should—entreat the development of individualism on behalf of the pupil, the result of this education is far more often a condition of universality, with students demonstrating similar knowledge and an understanding of the world at their point of culmination.

Li Hongbo (Chinese), “Absorption No. 5”, 2015, Books, desk, chair

This uniformity through education is explicitly at the heart of Li Hongbo’s sculpture Absorption No. 5, which consists of a bust of a child, carved from Chinese government issued text books sitting on a school desk. The figure is therefore formed out of the same educational materials that every child receives in China, thus highlighting how on a fundamental level, all Chinese children are taught to be the same.

While Li Hongbo is skeptical of the sameness that is produced through education, Sofie Muller’s sculpture Clarysse highlights the attachment we feel towards education as a fundamental component of childhood. The work, which is the first one we encounter, consists of a patinated bronze sculpture of a young schoolgirl sitting at a wooden desk, but the head of the child has been removed, “leaving only an oval shadow burned into the desktop.” The removal of her face renders her anonymous, making her a synecdoche for any schoolgirl, and thus reminding the viewer of the uniformity of education across all children.

Yet, at the same time, the implicit violence of her decapitation, further underscored by the burnt shadow, entreats us to feel great empathy at the loss of opportunity for her, since it is a near universal belief that all children should have the right to an education and that the interruption thereof is a marked tragedy. Viewed so closely together, these two works offer a complicated consideration of how education works to transition children to adulthood, existing as a potentially positive opportunity for maturation while simultaneously being a system of formal indoctrination.

Although formal education is central to the maturation from childhood, informal development through play is also essential for children, and the enactment of that play is prominent throughout OFF-SPRING. In several cases, issues of play are used to illustrate how children seek to emulate adults in their own actions, often distorting the reality of adulthood in so doing.

Gehard Demetz (Italian), “Keep My Old Dreams”, 2016, Lindenwood © Gehard Demetz, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

For instance, Gerhard Demetz’s sculpture Keep My Own Dreams “depicts a frowning child, standing in a protective stance; he holds a baseball bat in one hand and a hairbrush out in front of the other, as if warding off danger.” The child is purposefully misusing these objects to help him emulate the bravery enacted by parents as they protect their children from unknown harms. This desire to replicate the parent on behalf of the child is further underscored by the fact that he is wearing the shoes of a grown adult, his small ankles pressed against the leather tongues revealing a substantial gap, an action that many children do as a part of their play.

Carrie Mae Weems (American), “May Flowers”, 2002, Chromogenic dye coupler print, © Carrie Mae Weems, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Similarly, Carrie Mae Weems’ photographs Untitled (Mother, Daughter, and Make Up) from The Kitchen Table series and May Flowers unpack how play acts as a pretense of maturity. In both works, young black girls adorn themselves—with a crown of flowers in May Flowers and with make-up in Untitled—in a way that makes them appear more “womanly,” therefore practicing the grooming behaviors that will likely characterize their adult lives. By capturing the gestures of children’s play, both Demetz and Weems consider how these actions informally teach children the practices that will comprise their daily lives when they have fully matured.

In addition to considering the gestures of play, many of the works in OFF-SPRING also examine the objects thereof. Chris Roberts-Antieau, for example, explores the form of the doll house in her work Murder House. Employing the conventions of the dollhouse as a child’s toy—using appropriately sized figures and furnishings placed in a realistic setting—Roberts-Antieau subverts this kind of play by replicating one of the most shocking scenes of violence in the 20th century: the murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, a story that was memorialized in Truman Capote’s landmark work In Cold Blood. In depicting the murder scene in a doll house, Roberts-Antieau conveys a mature subject matter through an immature medium. In so doing, not only has Roberts-Antieau complicated the notion of a child’s toy through meticulously recreating the violent crime scene, but she also brings to light the ways in which the victims of this real-world horror, specifically the two teenaged Clutter children, were rendered mature by the violence they experienced.

Frances Goodman (South African), “The Dream” (detail), 2010-2016, Silk, lace, organza, satin, beads, embroidery thread, wedding dresses, sound installation.

The intersection of playing at maturity and the lived experience thereof is also present in the way the show considers the ritual of marriage as a marker for the transition from childhood to adulthood, especially for women. In Frances Goodman’s installation The Dream, which “is comprised of satin, silk, and organza wedding dresses flowing from the ceiling to the floor in waves of pinks and whites,” the piling of the gowns, coupled with the soft organic nature of the sculptural form rising above them makes the space feel like a child’s playroom, with plenty of wedding gowns to play dress up in. This juvenile fantasy of marriage as something you can pretend to attain clashes starkly with the sound components of the piece and the quotes embroidered on the sculptural forms of the work, all of which derive from the “candid emotions of hope, envy, angst, uncertainty, and desire about the tradition of marriage” expressed by “dozens of women ages 20 to 60 ” that Goodman interviewed for the project. As such, Goodman illustrates the transition to womanhood that is actually experienced by many when they move from bachelorette to bride to wife, a reality that is often far from the dreamed experience of young girls as they play.

While many of the works in OFF-SPRING focus on the differentiation between childhood and adulthood, still others consider the ways in which those relationships are intertwined, specifically within the context of the family unit. For instance, Daniel Magnusson’s serial portraits of fathers and daughters attending “Purity Balls” in Arizona examine the way that the practice of childrearing impacts the maturity of both the parent and child. In the photographs, the fathers hold their daughters close in an effort to support and protect them; while the idea of a “Purity Ball” might seem to be a sign of overbearing parenting, Magnusson notes that while he had a similar impression of the practice, “as [he] learned more, [he] understood that the fathers, like all parents simply wanted to protect the ones that they love—in the best way they know how.” The portraits thus function as an illustration of the maturation both of the daughters and of the fathers; while the Purity balls in many ways mark the transition from girlhood to young women, the participation of the fathers in them illustrates their complete acceptance of the role of parent as caretaker, recognizing that they are not only responsible for their own lives but the well-being of others, an act that by its very nature matures them.

Other works similarly tackle the issue of maturation through the depiction of inter-generational family relationships. Deanna Lawson’s Coulson Family, for example, explores the influence of familial legacies on the upbringing of her subjects, Black families that she meets “in grocery stores, on the subway, on road trips, during international travel, and on the busy streets of her Brooklyn neighborhood.” The images then take on the form of a family portrait, objects that by their very nature are meant to document the present for future generations. As such, these photographs not only illustrate how the family structure of today influences the upbringing, and therefore the identity, of a particular individual, but also calls to mind the complicated experiences of many previous generations. For Lawson, these photographs help to map the larger system of the experiences of black families living in the African diaspora and help personalize the experiences of various individuals within the context of a greater global black history.

Race and gender are two of the many themes that re-emerge throughout the show, further blurring the focus of OFF-SPRING: New Generations, and making it clear that this is not simply an exhibition about childhood and maturation. The show is, in fact, so full of thought provoking work that it would be nearly impossible to characterize it as examining simply one entity. Rather, the narrative it weaves reveals the complexities that really underlie the process of self-discovery we all embark on as we grow. Moreover, the show demonstrates that the designations between life stages and identities are not hard and fast, but rather exist in a continuum and the acknowledgement of the fluidity between them helps breed a greater understanding of the diverse human experience.

Arts

Cautious Optimism

Patterned tentacles burst from the wall of Louisville’s 21c Museum. They are suspended in motion, paused in the act of wriggling free from the gallery’s white wall. Viewed at a distance, Frances Goodman’s Medusa (2013-2014) appears wet. Each tentacle seems coated by a glossy residue, projecting a luminous sheen. A few steps closer and scales begin to take shape—the tentacles’ patterns have been meticulously constructed from thousands of acrylic fingernails.

Frances Goodman, Medusa, 2013-2014

Goodman recodes these mass-produced ornaments, turning a beauty industry commodity against itself. The decorative becomes subversive—often overlooked as a mere form of bodily artifice, these acrylic prosthetics have been tightly assembled to encase phallic wall protrusions. Medusa is a three-dimensional creature that stretches its mythological ties to masculine aggression and feminine seduction, yet also mines the meaning of an object that—through fashion advertising—has come to signify femininity.

In their 1973 article in Womanspace Journal, Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro asked: “What does it feel like to be a woman?”[1] 21c Louisville’s current exhibition, The Future is Female, takes inspiration from this legacy of feminist writers, artists, and activists of the 1970s, exploring the varying trajectories of craft-based practices, mythology, ecology, and identity. What resonates most, however, is the exhibition’s timing. In the United States, the resistance to women’s rights has encountered a social and political acceptability unseen since the years of the Reagan administration.[2]

What does the phrase “The Future is Female” mean in the age of Trump? 21c Louisville’s latest exhibition does not ask this question—at least not explicitly. At a time, however, when the spectacle of reality television has merged with sexism of politics, when misogyny is dismissed as “men being men” (and then rewarded with a presidency), when government funding for the National Endowment for Arts hangs in the balance, when a large majority of politicians view gender as biologically determined and not socially constructed, and when the leader of the so-called free world flirts with a nuclear arms race, futurity—specifically a future that incorporates women and the arts—seems optimistic. Yet this optimism and political energy is partly what fueled the artists of the Women’s Liberation movement in the 1970s.[3]

Nandipha Mntambo, Umfanekiso wesibuko, 2013

A prominent thread connects many of the works in The Future is Female—mortality is referenced not only through the human body and the abject, but also through a consideration of globalization’s slow decay of both cultures and ecological systems. Nandipha Mntambo blurs the line between skin and clothing by structuring cowhide into rigid human-animal hybrids. Cast from the artist’s body, two ghostly figures rest on their arms and legs—frozen in the act of crawling. As the cowhide slowly melts down the figures’ backs, its stiff ripples condense and begin to resemble folds of human skin. Tails protrude from the gathered hide.

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Naomi Safran-Hon, W.S. Pink Sweater (with other trash), 2016

In the mixed-media work of Naomi Safran-Hon, the human body is present through detritus—remnants of clothing intertwine with obliterated concrete, capturing the bulldozed homes of Wadi Salib, a neighborhood once home to Palestinians and Mizrahi Jewish inhabitants before its confiscation by the state of Israel in 1948. Safran-Hon inserts lace and concrete directly into an archival inkjet print, layering a third dimension onto what is normally flattened by camera and printer.

To be clear, the phrase “the future is female” is not a recent addition to feminist discourse. It first appeared on a T-shirt in the 1970s.[4] The original design was made for Labyris Books—the first women’s bookstore in New York City. Liza Cowan photographed her then-girlfriend, Alix Dobkin, wearing the shirt in 1975. Forty years later, in 2015, the image of Dobkin was posted on h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y—an Instagram account that documents “herstoric lesbian imagery.”

E.V. Day, Waterlily, 2011

E.V. Day’s striking Waterlily (2011) pulls anatomic imagery from the artwork of her foremothers—Georgia O’Keefe and Chicago. Through enlarging the vivid fuchsia water lily that she collected, pressed, and then digitally scanned during her residency at The Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, Day reclaims past histories of feminist investigation. The flower’s fleshy texture and prominent reproductive organs are magnified through the scanning process, and its enlarged form is both foreboding and seductive. The print’s pigment is so concentrated that it casts a light pink glow on neighboring works.

On the wall parallel to Medusa, three circular hand mirrors are individually framed by hot-pink resin Venus symbols. The mirrors are lightly etched with a single word in all-capital typeface: FEMINIST, EQUAL, or POWERFUL. Michele Pred’s Reflections (2015), as they are displayed across from the acrylic-nail monster, reexamine the mythological tale of Perseus and Medusa.

Michele Pred, Reflections (Powerful) and Reflections (Feminist), 2015

When approached at a specific angle, the mirrors can reflect Medusa with the addition of Pred’s positive language—a clever positioning that references Perseus’s use of a mirror to evade Medusa’s fatal stare, but also pushes against stereotypes of women in classical mythology and their prevailing societal effects.

The Future is Female is a careful selection of important works by emerging and established women artists: Jenny Holzer, Monica Cook, Kiki Smith, Sanell Aggenbach, Gaela Erwin, Nina Katchadourian, Carrie Mae Weems, Vibha Galhotra, Alison Saar, Tiffany Carbonneau, Kathleen McQuade Olliges, Hanna Liden, and Julie Levesque. The exhibition includes artists from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America, but Katchadourian’s homage to David Bowie and Freddie Mercury—Under Pressure (2014)—takes place 35,000 feet above ground.

Nina Katchadourian, Under Pressure, 2014

In an airplane restroom, she “recreates” Mercury and Bowie’s 1981 duet, using a standard polyester airline blanket, toilet paper, and the contents of her carry-on luggage to construct costumes. Under Pressure merges Katchadourian’s humorous performance with a poignant critique, as Mercury and Bowie rejected gender constructs rooted in patriarchal standards. The Future is Female embarks on a similar mission by pushing against the grain of normativity and advocating for a future that surmounts the current sociopolitical climate.

The Future is Female is on view through May 2017.

[1] Whitney Chadwhick, Women, Art, and Society, 5th ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2012), 378.

[2] Chadwhick, Women, Art, and Society, 378.

[3] Linda Nochlin, “’Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ Thirty Years After,” Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, ed. Maura Reilly (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2015), 311.

[4] Marisa Meltzer, “A Feminist T-Shirt Resurfaces from the ‘70s,” The New York TimesNovember 18, 2015,