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Valie Export, Friedl Kubelka
Richard Saltoun
111 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 6RY, United Kingdom
April 9, 2014 - May 23, 2014

Supreme Modern Feminist or Covert Misogynist?
by Philippa Snow

If pressed, I maintain that the reason I keep up with news about popular culture is that, for me, it adds all-important context to the various forms of "legitimate" art that I take in as a job. Visiting Richard Saltoun’s show of Viennese feminist art (that, specifically speaking, of VALIE EXPORT and Friedl Kubelka) for instance, the phrase "proto-selfies" played continuously in my mind: not a phrase of my own design, but one coined for the exhibition by a writer at Blouin Artinfo. Women these days—famous women, typically, but also the occasional civilian (the much-discussed personal trainer who is famous for the shape of her ass, for instance, or the "Fit Mom" who shared her post-birth abdominals with the caption “What’s Your Excuse?")—are newsworthy in a way they have never been before.

Both context and intent are crucial in reading feminist work, and—for better or for worse—we are observing VALIE EXPORT and Friedl Kubelka’s work here in a wildly different sociological setting from the ones against which they were first designed to kick. Kubelka’s beautiful, remarkable Jahreportraits series, for instance, feels different in an age when a woman documenting her appearance on a daily basis is more typical (cast your mind back to the cousin or ex-schoolmate in your Facebook feed who feels the need to perpetually share her pout, or the infants whose likenesses are shared by their parents from birth), while her Pin-Ups series now calls to mind the leaked "sexts" of Hollywood stars as much as it does erotic magazine photography.

Friedl Kubelka, Untitled (Pin-up), 1971, Black and white photograph mounted on cardboard, 11.8 x 16.6 cm; Copyright the Artist / Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery


"I was interested in the relationship between the inner and outer person," she explains of the Jahreportraits. "The state of mind recurs, but the skin gets older."

As it happens, Kubelka was guilty of one of the same crimes for which we harangue our scantily-clad celebrities: using a slimming mirror. The intersections between concept and vanity are easily blurred, if we choose to blur them. I have, of late, seen three-hundred-comment debates about whether Beyonce Knowles can be a feminist if she Photoshops her Instagram "selfies"; likewise, I have seen it posited that Knowles is either a Supreme Modern Feminist or a Covert Misogynist for the fact that she displays her bare ass-cheeks in a music video. If a body is conventionally beautiful (as, indeed, Kubelka’s is in Pin-Ups) can the sharing of it ever be truly considered a gesture for the betterment of women? Questions like this—if you know where to look for them—are being raised as much in popular culture as they are in contemporary art. 

VALIE EXPORT, Smart / Export II, 1968/1970, Vintage gelatin silver print, 60.7 x 40.5 cm, Edition of 5 plus 2 AP's; Copyright the Artist / Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery  


In photographing herself, legs akimbo, in crotchless trousers, VALIE EXPORT displays her own agency as well as her genitals; indeed, the artist holds a gun, as if to dare the bravest of her viewers to even consider sexualizing a body she defends by force. The notion of a woman reclaiming her own sexuality and aligning herself with a brand—becoming a brand, in effect—as is evident in Smart / Export II, feels, again, more commonplace now; I had previously written a piece for this very website which compared the commando limo-exits and leaked sex tape of socialite Paris Hilton to EXPORT’s performances, and as popular culture advances, these comparisons feel ever-less ironic.


Philippa Snow 



[Image on top: Friedl Kubelka, Reise (Voyage), 1974, Black and white photograph with blue pen text "Mantua 11.6.74", 12.5 x 18 cm; Copyright the Artist / Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery]




Posted by Philippa Snow on 4/17 | tags: photography figurative self-portrait selfie feminism pop-culture Austrian art

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Patron (Almighty, The): A Satirical Portrait of the Patron We Love to Hate
by Philippa Snow

He is the Patron, and he is your King. He is the God of the artworld, even more than Jeff "vacuum-cleaner" Koons, or Richard Prince, with his visions of "Spiritual America": the nubile young female with the movie-star make-up in the U.S.A-grade bubble-bath. You overheard at Trisha's that he once paid a St Martins graduate to drink a bottle of Newport lighter fluid and vomit it up and set it on fire, like a real-life conceptual dragon, and wondered, idly if this was the same St Martins student who vomited, recently, on Lady Gaga: the girl with the thick green paint in her gullet, and the patina of future-fame on her Curriculum Vitae. It wasn't, though. He loathes a repeat; he thinks of himself as the almighty bringer of tomorrow, and vomit-painting was old news by twenty-twelve.

He is the one who attempted to be The Patron with Sarah Lucas, when we all know that Sarah – androgynous, tough, and mouthy, and wholly girly only in the BritArt fashion, now the seer of all things British at the twenty-fifteen Venice Biennale – was only interested in one kind of Patron: the one with the salt, and the worm, and the thump-thump Groucho headache. He is the one who paid the aforementioned Richard Prince to have a bikini-clad girl writhe on the top of a Buick, if only to taunt a gallery-owner who told him over dinner that he was a homosexual (let's see what he thinks, he figured on a whim, about these high-concept tits. That bikini is Vuitton, after all. And every guy likes a muscle car). He is the one successful enough to pay Cindy Sherman to take a photograph of herself as just herself – a no-make-up 'selfie' for the cancer cause, in fact, because they are friends on Facebook, and he terrifies everyone (even the ones who are terrified already of showing themselves). He is the man who planted Ai WeiWei's sunflower seeds, and actually grew a fucking plant. He is the one who made Olafur Eliasson make the sun rise in the Turbine Hall, because he said: 'let there be light.' And so there was.

He is the man who has been in Tracey Emin's bed purely to assess its market value, rather than because she had sex with him (implausibly, he still got a mention in the tent).  He is the man who built the mega-galleries, quietly, in his own time, and on his own dime; he is the one whose Dolce and Gabbana suit oozes quiet excess, and whose shoes reflect the skyline at Frieze New York. He is the man who trails Ed Fornieles out in Los Angeles, and Oscar Murillo in London. He is the man who made Luc Tuymans paint a portrait of him which was neither grey nor frightening nor revealing in its unflinching photographic truth: he is not, after all, Condeleeza Rice, and as such, he believes he deserves to be shielded from such nastiness. He is the man who stands outside the conference centre at Art Basel in Miami and watches the status cars come in and out, like a tide, and nodding and smiling he passes the real don of art, Hans Ulrich Obrist – affable and talkative in his cornflower suit – and frowns.

Look on his artworks, ye mighty, and despair.


Philippa Snow


(Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, 2003, as part of The Unilever Series, Tate Modern. Image Credit: Tate Modern.)

Posted by Philippa Snow on 3/27 | tags: collector's catalogue patron Satire perspective

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