Samantha Magowan, The Top 10 Artists I Would Most Like to Fuck, 2008; C-print; 18 ½ x 14 inches
The Top 10 Artists I Would Least Like to Fuck, 2008; C-print; 18 ½ x 14 inches
Lube is a provocative exhibition by three women, Samantha Magowan, Kiki Seror and Tameka Norris, brought together by curator Martin Durazo for the purpose of exploring the perennial question of the objectified/sexualized female body in art. The artists address this concern with disparate media but speak with one voice, declaring that no one is going to tell them what the female body should or shouldn’t do.
Magowan’s You’re Only Young Once, a totemic mass of gray, white and platinum blonde wigs embedded with childhood objects like dolls heads and My Little Ponies, projects a feeling of something haunting from the past. While cobbled together, found-object work can come off as nonchalant or even half-assed, Magowan pulls it off by remaining earnest, evoking thoughts of decadent beauty, loss, decay—a sort of Fall of the House of Usher aesthetic. In another series, she presents The Top 10 Artists I Would Most Like to Fuck and The Top 10 Artists I Would Least Like to Fuck, two photos of a half naked lady, her back inscribed with the names of notable artists. I question if these works go further than conjuring a chuckle based in art-insider smugness. However, seeing Mike Kelley’s name crossed out in favor of Paul McCarthy in the Least Like photo is hilarious, and perhaps worthy of contemplation.
Seror’s video work uses the process of erasure to reinterpret the visual pleasures of pornography. In Phantom Fuck a grid of fifteen penises rhythmically pound away into nothingness, their intended receptive orifices erased by the artist. Complete with a heroic soundtrack, the work is mesmerizing and comical, rendering each cock a pathetic yet determined actor in a marathon of copulation. In Seror’s Paradise Lost a woman appears orgasmically interacting with a pulsating, chromatically smeared spectrum of light. Like André Kertész’ surrealist photos of nude women with absurdly elongated or truncated limbs, the piece explores uncanny notions of a body without limits, in Seror’s case, a body reduced to pure light, pure spectacle. This is by far the most intriguing work in the show, allowing the viewer to ruminate on the intersections of visual and sexual pleasure.
Norris’ installation, consisting of a wallpaper of enlarged American currency cascading to the floor, acts as a backdrop, inviting viewers to pose in front of it. The scene is framed on both sides by monitors playing a music video where Norris, rapping to her own lyrics, enacts recognizable vignettes from hip-hop videos while bumping and grinding—like a dancer in a Lil Wayne video—on multi-million-dollar artworks in UCLA’s sculpture garden. The lyrics put an art-world twist on rap braggadocio: “I’m that black Cindy Sherman and that little Kara Walker. Basquiat resurrected from the dead motherfucka.” Given the influence of art schools like UCLA’s in churning out art stars, like the music industry produces one-hit wonders, Norris’ critique, while somewhat one-dimensional, is cutting and appropriate.
Perhaps there really is no “shocking” depiction of human sexuality anymore—at least not in the exceptionally liberal art world. Jesse Helms’ ghost does, however, still haunt popular notions of feminist art. If Lube makes one point clear, it’s that the new millennium finds the female body in fine art unrestrained by any and all puritanical iconoclasm. How this will contribute to a new feminist discourse has yet to be determined.
Tucker Neel is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.