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At the risk of ruining a perfectly good joke, I’m going to examine Joey Fauerso’s show at Western Exhibitions further. It’s the last week to see this excellent show, as well as Ben Stone’s concurrent exhibition, both of which have stuck in my mind since seeing it on the opening weekend three weeks ago.
Fauerso’s exhibition consists of three watercolors and two video pieces. The watercolors are delicate renderings of two nude men and one semi-nude man. The heads of the nude men are obliterated by squares of color, which only leaves their body and genitalia exposed. This kind of cropping that objectifies the body was, and is, a staple of advertising culture and has become an object of feminist critique, particularly in the work of Barbara Kruger. Here the technique is reversed onto the male body. These kinds of critiques and reversals are continued in the videos.
The first video one will encounter is Me Time, 2010. In the eight-minute looped video the artist herself makes out with a series of puppets, according to the exhibition statement she “attempts to make as ‘real’ a connection as possible with the ridiculous-looking puppets.” First of all, the results are hilarious and a welcome bit of honesty after viewing less-than-successful attempts to revive aspects of Modernism elsewhere. I really liked the piece but after watching it for an extended period on a second viewing I felt Fauerso’s romantic moves with the puppets were too forced, too staged, too artificial. The acting wasn’t convincingly real enough, which the artist had set out to do. But then I realized that’s the point.
What artistic depiction of intimacy, or love, even comes close to approaching true intimacy? I thought immediately of a dorm room poster staple, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s canvas from ca. 1890, Pygmalion and Galatea. Based on the Greek myth, Gérôme paints the moment when the sculpture comes to life and sweeps the sculptor up in an embrace. But Gérôme’s academic depiction is just as stiff and artificial as making out with a puppet, which is essentially what Pygmalion is doing. Fauerso allows us to realize the mystery of love, of intimacy, and how these may ultimately be nonrepresentational.
Located a few steps away is the other video Clearing, 2010. In this short, three-minute looped video a twirling naked man emerges from the right of the screen onto a wooded clearing that is apparently derived from kitschy antique wallpaper. Fauerso plays (or appears to play) a flute in the background that seems to lure the man out who spins until he collapses, while animated birds fly over heard. Again, the immediate effect is laughter but the work goes deeper than that.
Art history is rife with these kinds of depictions of available females lounging naked in the woods, never mind that most reasonable people are usually fully clothed in the woods due to ticks, mosquitoes, thorns, rocks, or whatever else. Even as a child in museums I remember thinking there was something off about naked people frolicking in woods. Again, the examples that Fauerso seems to work against are mostly French, from the Rococo period. Particularly the works of François Boucher, in whose works women’s clothing always seems to fall off of just one shoulder to reveal a single, and we suppose, tantalizing, breast; where nakedness is transformed into nudity by simply applying a title that refers to a classical subject, e.g. Diana Leaving the Bath. Throw in the animated birds à la Disney’s racist and never fully released 1946 film Song of the South, and there’s a heady mix of cliché and bias being exposed and turned on its head.
The reversal of nudity onto the male subject is an amazingly effective and simple device that allows us to actually see the reverse of assumptions and biases that underwrite most art historical periods. Fauerso’s work is like a video cousin to Sylvia Sleigh’s luscious paintings of nude men, portraits that struck a chord with Linda Nochlin. This device, what Nochlin called “sex-role reversal,” is still successful in Fauerso’s use and doesn’t appear dated like Sleigh’s portraits do (in a good way). While you can’t unwrite art history, what does this say about current production, or our current social atmosphere, when we’ve supposedly entered the “post-feminist” era, but these critiques still seem relevant and fresh? Clearly Fauerso is pushing against a tension that is still there, though it may be harder to see.
-Abraham Ritchie, Editor for ArtSlant: Chicago
(Images: Joey Fauerso (top image), Scrape (2010), Super Radiate (2006), Force Field (2010, Watercolor on paper; Joey Fauerso, Me Time (video still), 2010, Single channel video on 8-minute loop, Edition of 3; Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pygmalion and Galatea, c. 1890, Oil on canvas; Joey Fauerson, The Clearing (video still), 2010, Single channel video on 3-minute loop, Edition of 3. All Fauerso images courtesy of Western Exhibitions and the artist.)