Cutting Realities: Gender Strategies in Art is perhaps a year too late, and after having endured the plethora of feminist-inspired exhibitions (some very good and some very bad) in and around New York City during 2007, I question the importance of yet another. One could argue that what makes this exhibit different is its focus on central Europe, a traditionally neglected region in the canon of art history.
The curator of the exhibit, in all the didactic materials, emphasizes the political and social climate that has shaped gender and sexuality in central Europe, going on to explain how one can see this in the works on view. Most of the work on view was in direct dialogue with 1960’s and 1970’s body art, or is currently in dialog with such issues, but in a more relevant way. However, it relies on hackneyed methodologies and trite interpretations to propagate its body politics.
Take Natalia LL’s project from the early to mid 1970’s, Consumer Art, for example, which depicts the artist in both grainy video and serial photography eating a banana in a provocative fashion. It is true that Natalia LL brought to her native Poland a form of gender-orientated conceptualism unparalleled in its time and locality, however did it make for good art? This is a dense question with no clear answer. What I am not questioning is the legitimization of acts of banality performed in the name of art, but rather if Natalia LL’s Consumer Art lacked the subtle nuances found in the works of her Western counterparts.
One of my personal favorites in the exhibit are the recent drawings of Ulrike Lienbacher, a mid-career Austrian whose work, rendered in simple contour, depict intimate routines in strange and peculiar ways, bringing to light our fear of disease and “dirtiness.” Though working in a completely different time than Natalia LL, and thus almost incomparable, I see in Lienbacher’s drawings the layers of meaning missing in most of LL’s work, and for that matter, in most of Cutting Realities: Gender Strategies in Art.
Images: Natalia LL, Consumer Art (1970s); Ulrike Lienbacher, Untitled. Courtesy Austrian Cultural Forum.