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PITTSBURGH – In her mid-career retrospective Deborah Kass: Before and Happily Ever After at the Andy Warhol Museum, Deborah Kass accomplishes the seemingly impossible by breathing new life and critical ideas into the appropriation of Andy Warhol’s work.
Before visiting the Warhol Museum, I approached Deborah Kass’s work with a bit of trepidation since I recently attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s jumbled and heavy-handed exhibition, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years that somehow managed to strip all meaning from Warhol and his appropriator’s works, including a work by Kass.
However, I was completely enthralled by Deborah Kass: Before and Happily Ever After, which by raising issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and art history, seemed to be a feminist and queer theorist’s dream.
The exhibition ranges from Kass’s early landscape and art historical paintings from the 1980s and early 1990s, where Kass would mix the styles of modern art masters such as Cezanne, Picasso, and Pollock with cartoons to reveal the male-dominated imagery that pervades modern art and popular culture to her recent language-based series, feel good paintings for feel bad times.
While I understand and appreciate the significance of Kass’s criticism of modern art history and absolutely love her recent campy use of quotes from musicals, particularly “You Can’t Stop the Beat” (2003) from John Water’s film Hairspray, I found the highlight of the exhibition was, surprisingly, Kass’s The Warhol Project series of appropriation of Warhol’s work completed from 1992 to 2000.
Kass’s Warhol Project includes takes on a wide variety of Warhol’s work from his self-portraits to his celebrity paintings to even Kass’s playfully hilarious rendition of his 13 Most Wanted Men series featuring mugshots of art scene personalities such as Robert Storr and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Thelma Golden.
Throughout the Warhol Project series, Kass deftly forges a queer, cross-generational artistic identification between herself, a Jewish-American lesbian woman, and Warhol, a Slovak-American Catholic gay man, which can be illuminated by queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz’s theory of disidentification.
According to Muñoz who studies Warhol in relation to Jean-Michel Basquiat, certain queer artists and performers appropriate a mainstream cultural style in a manner that is neither a complete identification with or a refusal of, but a middle ground, called disidentification, which both questions the appropriated work and transforms it to the artist’s own use.
For example, the Warhol Museum’s lobby features two nearly identical paintings side-by-side: Warhol’s “Camouflage Self Portrait” (1986) and Kass’s own “Camouflage Self-Portrait” (1994). While both portraits present a queer artist fashioning themselves against an overtly masculine, military pattern, Kass’s self-portrait, with her hair teased up to reflect Warhol’s wig, reveals the incredible difference in fame and notoriety between Warhol, a male art icon and Kass, a female artist whose image is certainly not as iconic.
Rather than a complete identification with Warhol or a complete rejection of his work, Kass disidentifies with Warhol’s powerful visual language and transforms it to her own use.
In addition to her self-portraits, Kass also completed a series of dynamic portraits of Barbra Streisand in the style of various Warhol celebrity portraits.
Employing the style of Warhol’s Elvis paintings, Kass’s “Double Yentl (My Elvis)” (1992) takes Streisand’s image from the film Yentl, in which Streisand plays a woman who dresses and lives as a man in order to study Talmudic Law and attracts the attention of both women and men. Coupled with his portraits of Marlon Brando, Warhol’s portraits of Elvis detail the absolute pinacle of 1950s and 1960s white male masculinity. By replacing these stars with the image of Streisand dressed as a man, Kass twists the idea of celebrity worship, ethnicity, and masculinity.
Another and perhaps my favorite portrait of Streisand by Deborah Kass is her “Gold Barbra” (1992) portrait. Obviously appropriated from Warhol’s “Gold Marilyn” (1962), which always seemed so Catholic and gay to me from Warhol’s diva worship to his golden near religious icon color choice. Playing with these aspects of “Gold Marilyn,” Kass disidentifies with Warhol, reflecting his diva worship but replacing his WASP-y Monroe with an unquestionably Jewish Streisand.
While many critics right now seem completely tired of appropriation, particularly appropriation of Warhol, Kass’s disidentification with Warhol thankfully re-invigorates both Warhol and appropriation by its duel acceptance and critique of Warhol’s work.
As Kass’s neon work “After Louise Bourgeois” (2010) exclaims in an altered quote from French artist Louise Bourgeois:
“A woman has no place in the art world unless she proves over and over again that she won’t be eliminated.”
Deborah Kass’s retrospective proves exactly that.
Deborah Kass: Before and Happily Ever After is on view at the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) until January 6, 2013.
For those in New York, Deborah Kass’s will open at the Paul Kasmin Gallery (293 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) on January 24.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
In 1850, when Dr. Robert W. Gibbes commissioned J. T. Zealy to make daguerreotypes of persons held in slavery in and around Columbia, South Carolina, for Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz to use in support of his theory that African people were a separate species, daguerreotypes were at the height of fashion.
Works by Rodolfo Abularach, Mario Bencomo, Denise Carvalho, Pérez Celis, Entes, and Agustín Fernández are on view at the NYC gallery through January 7, 2022.
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
“Ecosystem X,” an art-based reimagining of life on planet Earth, is the theme of this open call. 10 artists will win $5,000 and one student will receive $5,000 as a scholarship/stipend.
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.