Painting of the Day

3 Apr

Nonplus. By Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven. Collage, drawing, and mixed materials on pastel paper, 2012. Currently on view at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, in the exhibition “White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart.”

Notes that accompanied the exhibition “White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart”:

Fashion is an industry, a seasonal cycle, an economic indicator, a luxury, a trifle, a necessity, and a symbol of class. For this exhibition, these possibilities are eschewed in favor of the insight that fashion is also, according to British novelist J.G. Ballard: “A recognition that nature has endowed us with one skin too few, and that a fully sentient being should wear its nervous system externally.” In looking for this nervous system worn externally, this exhibition brings together examples from outlandish costumes to self-published magazines, jewelry to sculpture, performance to painting, commercials to photography, video to a season’s fashion collection. These works tactically adorn the body with a distinctive sense of pose–the exclusive province of neither the advertisement nor the runway–an attitude perfumed by immense mediation, an unsteady social sphere, and a reflection of the self.

Don’t forget, when the word fashion is spoken, the word narcissism follows close behind. Don’t fret, per American writer Wayne Koestenbaum’s pithy reminder: “Narcissism isn’t evil: it’s ordinary.” It is self-evaluations at the work place, profile pictures for your social media, and looking at yourself in the mirror leaving the house. Oscillating between branding, self-recognition, sexuality, political uniform, and status, our adornment always reflects a chosen position in and with society. And that position projects what we value. Remember, the mythic figure Narcissus initially didn’t think he was transfixed by his own reflection in the pond, but by a beauty the likes of which he’d never seen. Told time and time again that ours is a narcissistic age, how do we, us fully sentient beings, positively reveal or covertly enact desires before this distorted mirror of our time?

My comments:

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any notes on this artist because she is Belgian and most of the websites that came up on Google with her name searched were in a foreign language. But I think that this exhibition did a fantastic job of appropriately choosing artworks that applied what the exhibition was about, so it is sufficient to include the brochure notes for the overall exhibition to shed some light on this specific artwork.

I have a Phoenix column appearing this week on this exhibition, but I’ll say now that I found it very interesting in unique. Exhibitions, especially Contemporary art ones, have to be careful to achieve that careful balance between art that isn’t boring and devoid of meaning or merely copies predecessors and art that is so esoteric and intellectual, it becomes simply ridiculous and pseudo-intellectual. This show manages to find the perfect balance of that, presenting art that is very bizarre while still able to derive substantive, relevant meaning from it.

This is one of the artworks on view that I was particularly drawn to, although not quite as much as the video that was my previous art of the day post. And it’s interesting to think about why I personally find it appealing. As much as art critics try to be objective and fair, I think even the most seasoned critic will have trouble not letting at least some of their personality and emotions dictate their aesthetic judgments. In a fascinating book by Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” he argued that people make moral judgments first on emotional grounds, and only afterwards use their reason to justify their original judgments. I think it’s possible that the same might be true for art.

So why would I like this artwork on emotional grounds? It might have something to do with the attractiveness of the abstracted woman figure in the painting. I do feel as if the painting would really be missing something if she wasn’t in it. I think you can justify that on rational, scholarly grounds too, though, because she certainly serves as a weight in the composition and plays a major role for its expressive effects.


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