I usually really enjoy the summer group shows as a nice way to see work from some artists I've missed during the season, and get a sense of the big picture. This time, on my admittedly quick and incomplete runthrough of Chelsea, I was struck by a pervasive sense of depression -- a sort of hunkering down waiting for the present to be the past -- very low energy to the point of apathy. One of the few high points I encountered was at Cheim & Read, where an intriguing exhibition titled Female Gaze: Women Look at Women presents a wonderfully diverse group of work by women with women as the subject.
The premise of the exhibition is a re-imaging of femaleness, and the assumption that there is a different dynamic that takes place between the artist and subject when both are women. While this premise may be a little nebulous, and not necessarily evident in some of the work, it has nevertheless served as a great catalyst for the gathering of powerful works in a variety of media by some great artists. There is the famous and rarely seen early Lynda Benglis video piece called Female Sensibility, a solid Alice Neel portrait, and a surprising Cezannesque early Joan Mitchell academic nude. Other outstanding pieces include a wild Marilyn Minter, a Ghada Amer thread piece, and a sensuous Julia Margaret Cameron portrait. As for the premise -- whether by a man or a woman, these images are still objectified, eroticized, and subjected to the viewer's gaze. There is however a different kind of eroticism here. The subjects almost always look straight back at the viewer, asserting a self possessed presence and control. There is still a distinct vulnerablity within the dignity of these women, it's just that their vulnerablity is not in their femaleness, but in their humanness.
For a beautifully comprehensive tour of the Female Gaze exhibition, go to Joanne Mattera's blog.
This exhibition is an interesting elaboration on last month's show at Cheim & Read, recent paintings by Chantal Jaffe. While owing a deep debt to Alice Neel, Jaffe possesses a freewheeling facility and a frankness that distinguishes her among figure painters. Her compositions are often surprising, and her images are built out of slabs of juicy oil paint. Sometimes self-portraits, and sometimes portraits of friends, her images possess a blank disinterest while staring right at us.