Gender in the Balance, National Juried Exhibition
Aug 3 - Sep 14, 2019
Juror: Judith K. Brodsky, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Visual Arts,
Rutgers University and Founding Director, The Brodsky Center,
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Making the selections for this exhibition proved to be very interesting. What did “gender balance” actually mean? I looked for artists whose work made visual the fluidity of sexual orientation that leads to transgender, the complexity of overall identity as it relates to sexuality, the issues that arise from identifying as one gender or another—or none. Dan McCormack’s pinhole photograph was in my view, an ideal visual metaphor for the theme of the exhibition.
My choice of Back Blade Girl as second award was representative of the effectiveness of a continuous narrative in considering the issue. Several artists (Robert Gann, Catherine Walker) besides Michael and Sarah Biggs Cheney utilized a structure of several small images to convey their ideas. The Cheneys were particularly effective in finding a visual story that captured the restless uncertainty of identity.
My third choice for an award was Renee Cuny’s “Between Desire and Disgust,” a series of handmade paper boxes containing discards from the body—hair, fingernail cuttings, eyelashes. The boxes themselves are beautiful, but the contents are intimately connected to the body’s wastes. Through them, Cuny conveys the ambivalency of gender balance—the image projected by the body and the reality of the physical body itself.
In Hannah Altman’s photograph of herself paired with her mother, each is precariously balancing lemons (do women’s lives produce lemons like bad cars?); Tanner Messer’s and Alan Vincent’s portraits of themselves in women’s clothing along with Helen Cox’s painting of her male model, Darwin, also in women’s clothing question the gender balance in heterosexuality; as does Daniel Cosentino’s video installation in which a nude man and nude woman are literally boxed into their roles, preventing the fluidity and change that typifies gender balance. Joe Klaus’s disturbing enhanced photographs, Belt and Pearls, sewn and painted on, suggest the pain in balancing gender.
There is nothing like humor to enhance a message, and I enjoyed the satire in Katie Ott’s Trophy, a sculpture that explodes the stereotype of the macho sculpture that has been with us since Michaelangelo’s David by creating a trophy out of pantyhose; Kay Gordon’s series Feminist Hygiene, in which she embroidered wild animals—a wolf, grizzly bear, tiger, and eagle on menstrual pads; Paul Plumadore’s amusing and gender bending photographic mash-ups of male/female/military/diplomatic/historical figures; A.M. Schaer’s Barbie Legs in a Tuna Tin, variation #2, the title of which says it all; Kevin Eaton’s cookie jar in the shape of a fearsome penis; Anne Spence’s Minotaurette, which makes fun of our long history of male dominated Classical mythology (Steven Rasmussen’s beautiful photograph, Guillaume as the Winged Victory of Samothrace also deconstructs the male gender dominance of Classical mythology, but in a lyrical way) ; and C.B. Murphy’s Hermaphrodite, based on pop culture fun fair, side show poster images.
Several artists—Teresa Shields and Mia Weiner, as well as Katie Ott, are using embroidery as an art practice—a disruption of gender balance in and of itself—to create gender bending images as in Teresa Shields’ Cut with a Kitchen Knife and Mia Weiner’s Together, a lacy depiction of two men engaged in sexual activity. Two paintings stood out as interpreting gender balance—Meghan Bissonette’s His Socks—a very ambivalent image of a female wearing men’s socks—and Alfredo Levanti’s wonderfully exuberant painting, Gay, a portrait of several nude gay men.
Deconstruction of gender stereotypes occupy the artistic practice of several artists. Dylan Staniszewski’s photograph, Break, a self portrait that is fragmented in mirror images and Sharon Harper’s works combining drawn elements with brown paper collage to create gender ambiguous figures comment on how we construct our own identities rather than accept a single definition thrust upon us. Anne Beidler’s print, Finding Solace, similarly comments on the construction of identity, the female figure on the right versus the chaos of tangled shapes overpowered by two rectangular forms on the left as does Julie Ashton’s photograph, Intention: to become mild, contrasting the figure in a hoodie holding a paper coffee cup and a phone with a mannekin in a bridal costume. Christopher Daniggelis’s elaborate intaglio prints are studies in historical deconstruction, combining historical elements to create new patterns divorced from their original meaning, a metaphor for gender fluidity. Heidi Jensen creates icons using an odd combination of neck ruffs, a symbol of aristocratic dress in the 17th century with household cleaning brushes, providing another metaphor for the off kilter skewing of women’s gender balance.
The choice of Gender Balance as a theme for this exhibition reflects contemporary concern with sexuality. These artists are providing insights that help us consider the issue thoughtfully.