Filled with glitter, hair, shoes and Cher, New York Art Residency & Studios (NARS) Foundation’s exhibition Civilization and its Discontents felt like a trip into a drag queen’s subconscious, which would normally excite me. However, serious ideas behind the show, including its connection to Freud, bogged down what could have been a fun exhibition.
Curated by The Art Machine-blogger and sometimes Hyperallergic contributor Cat Weaver, the winner of the first NARS Emerging Curator Program, the small Civilization and its Discontents contains work by five artists, including the crochet-happy Olek.
Taking the title from Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, the show’s press release describes the works in the show as attempting to break free of meaning and civilization.
With four works in the exhibition, East Berlin-born Stephanie Homa’s acrylic paintings are heavily represented in Civilization and its Discontents. With their trippy colors and style, Homa’s bizarre paintings are probably the most in line with the theme of the exhibition. In “Magical BBQ” (2011), Homa represents a burning trailer with a tattered American flag in the background while a girl stares at a dropped wizard hat. While I wasn’t blown away by the paintings, I did appreciate the psychedelic colors and sly social criticism.
Shown on a TV and DVD player that both had crochet-ed covers, Olek’s film Working Woman in Red: A Portrait (2011) shows her six-hour performance at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, where she continually unraveled and knit an apron that she wore over a red crocheted outfit. Even though I’ve viewed Olek’s work frequently and seen her at quite a few parties, Olek is a difficult artist for me because I can’t figure out if her work can surpass being a novelty.
In Vanilla Royal’s “Fetish Shoe-Loop” (2010), a fetishistic shoe, which Freud would probably have loved, that looked like a cross between Alexander McQueen’s Lobster Claws (most famously worn by Lady Gaga) and an ice-cream cone. Even though the shoes, with the tiny foot on the heel, were pretty fabulous, I’ve already watched similar shoes in action at a more inspiring burlesque performance to Nine Inch Nails at Meaner, Harder, Leather at the recently closed VIG 27.
Kikuku Tanaka’s “Deep Core at the Museum on Top of the Mountain (with Dismembered Leg)” (2010) was the most disturbing work in the show. Not pictured, a lamp with little toy birds hung from the ceiling, lighting up the working fountain with fluorescent egg-shaped blob placed in it. Connected to the fountain with an umbilical-like cord is another egg-shaped object called “Visceral Studies #3” (2010) that on closer look is covered with human hair.
Behind the fountain, Tanaka’s photograph “S is for Sublimation” really breaks the bounds of creepiness and I might leave it to Freud to figure this one out.
Filling the show with three works of Cher and one of porn, Nancy Drew certainly makes an impression with her glittery paintings. Obviously, Drew is trying to put forth some sort of celebration of female power but using porn and Cher seems so forced and hackneyed. All of the Cher made me want to start belting out “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” in the gallery, which was probably not the intended reaction of the artist or the curator.
Attempting to frame the art as using images and objects from our civilization and depriving them of meaning, the NARS Foundation’s Civilization and Its Discontents seems to fall flat. Riding the freight elevator up to the 3rd floor to get to NARS, the operator had decorated the elevator with kitschy sad-eyed kitten calenders and a tropical fish moving light lamp, which seemed to be a more hilarious and insightful comment on civilization than the show itself.
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