De Beauvouir’s Inheritors: “The Woman Destroyed” at PPOW
The Woman Destroyed at P.P.O.W
June 30 to July 29, 2016
535 West 22nd Street (between 10th and 11th avenues)
New York, 212 647 1044
“The Woman Destroyed,” a group exhibition at P.P.O.W, titled after Simone de Beauvoir’s work of fiction, is a latently hostile display of frustration aimed toward overused, female-unfriendly tropes. Picking up where De Beauvoir leaves off in her book, which focuses on the lives of middle-aged women and their unsexy encounters with betrayal, failure, and various crises, these six artists each embody a unique and complicated experience that emerges from such a disadvantage.
Perhaps the poster image for this exhibition is Bag Lady (2016) by Robin F. Williams. According to urban slang, a Bag Lady is a homeless and/or crazy woman who carries all her possessions in an assortment of bags. Another colloquialism explains that if a man wishes to have sex with an ugly woman that he may better his experience by putting a bag over her head. In this painting, the insulting act of hooding her subject with a bag is muffled by the trippy palette, the stormy, gray atmosphere blooming in the distance, and by the subject’s relaxed attitude, which lets the viewer know that she’s been through this sort of thing at least a thousand times. She’s a self-proclaimed Bag Lady that put the bag on her own damn head. Maybe it’s her way of saying that her mind is her only true possession — and that men finding her sexually attractive is not her main occupation. Williams’s other painting in the show, In the Gutter (2015), is a similar display of bad-assery. The model in this picture looks as though she walked off a billboard of naked women selling watches or shoes, and assumed a squat right over a gutter, as if to say “Sell this.” The crass gesture, coupled with her beautiful form adorned in golden shoes and matching belt, reinforce the simultaneously sad and unapologetic situation: a strong, capable woman stuck playing one of the most intellectually underwhelming roles of her life.
Elizabeth Glaessner’s 20 small paintings (all 2016) slip into a deeper, psychological realm. The space is internal, slow, and sludgy; each picture resembles a snapshot from a psychedelic vision or nightmare. Circling, for instance, reads like a creepy transcription of the Three Fates. The color emits a curious internal light and is often applied with direct, gestural mark-making. Helping a Friend has raised, red iron oxide hands in the immediate foreground, which suggest that the dreamer is falling away from, or calling out to, the two figures struggling in the mid ground. De Beauvoir wrote, in The Second Sex (1949), that, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” These images feel as though they move from the emergence to dissimilation of a woman — that a lifetime of memories and experience produce a psyche that is irreconcilable with reality perceived at face value. Glaessner’s figures appear to be forgetting their womanhood.
A similar disparate culling of inner thought and outer being can be found in David Mramor’s work. Mramor, who sometimes goes by his feminine pseudonym, Enid Ellen, features photographs of his late mother. The images, printed on canvas are embellished with smudges and lines of acrylic to create a juxtaposition of reality and painted marks. Ambiguous yet provoking, the pictures seem to point to an inability to access his mother, his inner womanhood, or even a comfortable synthesis of his his male and female attributes. The blatant clashing of language in his work corresponds to a dichotomous sensibility weighted by melancholy.
Moving from male-female to female-animal, Centaurette in Forest (2015), by Alison Schulnik, is a visceral, chunky rendering of a lady centaur. Not a bull in a china shop, but a centaurette in a cake shop, the frantic creature grasping at the sides of her head appears as though she herself is an amalgamation of frosting, wading through the surrounding flora, which is equally goopy. Historically, female centaurs rarely appear in mythology but are occasionally found in Greek and Roman mosaics. Conceivably, this work speaks to the nature of existing without the power to communicate — of being trapped. Similar in both form and content, Lauren Kelly’s digital print, Wall Flower (2011), depicts a constructed mini dancehall. A doll, whose face is cropped out of the shot, sits amid a cluster of empty chairs, wearing a billowing dress literally made of cake frosting. What was made to be tasted and enjoyed by others goes unsampled, either because her choice to withhold it, or by rejection of others.
Looking at Jessica Stoller’s sculpture, Slip (2016), we see again the persistent theme of dessert. The subject of a porcelain bust rears her head, smiling as she balances various pastries, sweets, and plates that have been plopped on top. But unlike Schulnik or Kelly’s females, who are either frantic or lonely, and different even from Williams’s cool and collected women, the figure here appears content — as though she’s merely wearing an extravagant hat to a Surrealist costume ball. Ultimately, what the various dispositions portrayed have in common is a post-angry dissatisfaction with the onslaught of slangs and expectations that women remarkably deal with.