Lovely Girls Emotions
I think of you often. I do, you were wonderful, you still are.
--Ellen Cantor, The Cinderella Syndrome, 1994
From September 18 – October 30, PARTICIPANT INC is honored to present early works in sculpture and painting by Ellen Cantor, with works ranging from 1982 to 1994, the period prior to her relinquishing object making to pursue the work for which she became most well-known, wall drawing and video. Taking its title from a series of snapshots of a shirt bearing this text that Cantor used frequently in drawings and as the invitation image for her 1997 exhibition at Galerie Drantmann in Brussels, Lovely Girls Emotions presents a selection of rarely seen works that provide insight into Cantor’s overall storytelling practice, culminating in her feature film, Pinochet Porn. The exhibition will be accompanied by a presentation of Cantor’s collected ephemera related to the censorship of the exhibition Oh Pain Oh Life at Helmhaus Zurich in 1995, which also contributes themes to the film.
In a 1992 press release written by Gregory Volk, he noted that Cantor’s work “involves a free and direct female expression of sex, love, psychology and politics.
Her sexual imagery, which at times refers to pornography, ancient erotic art and recognizable moments in art history, fundamentally extends the dialogue to a new, somewhat unsteadying region. Cantor’s sexual imagery, and her blatant evocation of sexual pleasure, undermines societal taboos that have both prohibited and inhibited women from expressing themselves sexually. […] Many of her pieces have a shrine-like or even devotional quality, yet her frequent use of ad-hoc detritus and ‘low culture’ knick-knacks introduces as well a note of casualness and casual levity. She repeatedly uses whatever is near at hand (including beads and feathers, pom-poms, and lipsticks) to create a ‘girl-world’ in which Barbie-doll like figures express themselves with a voodoo ferocity.”
Around the time this work was made, Cantor curated the landmark exhibition, Coming to Power: 25 Years of Sexually X-Plicit Art by Women at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, taking the role of writing and curating into her own hands. The exhibition description states: “Sexual imagery created by and for women has a recent but powerful history. This exhibition intends to challenge the concepts of female sexual identity that have been constructed by our society, and to investigate how this identity might be formed anew.”
The subjects that populate Cantor’s paintings often include women engaged in fantasy sequences involving animals that act like people, flight, and states of ecstatic celebration. Her totemic sculptural works, assemblages of carved and painted wood, found objects including bells and smashed cans, are reminiscent of ancient female power figures, also paying homage to the works of Louise Bourgeois and Carol Rama, while pointing to Cantor’s subsequent move into the transformation of appropriated materials as a strategy for empowerment.
Lovely Girls Emotions is part of a series of concurrent exhibitions, public programs, and screenings featuring the work of Ellen Cantor, scheduled throughout Fall 2016 in New York City. Exhibitions will also take place at 80WSE Gallery, Maccarone, and Foxy Production, with public programs hosted by Skowhegan and a screening of video works presented at Electronic Arts Intermix. The world premiere of Cantor’s film Pinochet Porn (2008–2016) will take place at The Museum of Modern Art. This unprecedented collaboration between organizing venues and the Estate of Ellen Cantor seeks to open dialogue surrounding Cantor’s multifaceted and groundbreaking work.
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