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Lezley Saar – Madwoman In the Attic: The Female Gothic in 19th Century Literature    Sep 8 - Oct 6, 2012

Anna Karenina
Lezley Saar
Anna Karenina, 2012
Edna Pontellier
Lezley Saar
Edna Pontellier, 2012
Unnamed -The Yellow Wallpaper
Lezley Saar
Unnamed -The Yellow Wallpaper, 2012
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Opening Reception: Saturday, September 8, 8-11pm

Merry Karnowsky Gallery is proud to present Lezley Saar’s latest exhibition Madwoman in the Attic. In this exhibition Saar masterfully subverts the traditions of 19th Century Gothic literature and Colonial art through added drops of surrealism and insurgent perspective.

Delving into the complexities of insanity Saar peels the Victorian madwoman from yellowed texts and transplants her into the visual plane of portraiture. By these means these women acquire a degree individuality exceeding that of archetypes or supporting characters. Jane Eyre’s Bertha, the unnamed madwoman of Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s Yellow Wallpaper, Lucy Snow from Villete and other characters are reimagined and fleshed out: no longer simply blanketed with the term ‘madness’ and forgotten about, their delusions and circumstances are personalized and given expression.

Moving away from a literary theme, a section of the exhibition, titled “Madness in the Gaze” explores the phantoms of 19th Century ‘feminine afflictions’, such as melancholia and hysteria. Academic papers and historic information will be displayed alongside Saar’s work add to the air of humanistic curiosity and empathy exuded throughout. All this is indicative that for Saar, madness can be confronted and has no stigma or attendant shame.

Visually Saar’s work is reminiscent 19th Century portraiture, sharing in the graphical boldness of Marry Cassatt’s paintings and the stark intimacy of Whistler’s portraits. Fabric on panel in imitation of wall-paper and collaged photographs of surreal still lifes give form to private delusions and layer on a tangibly Gothic atmosphere. Similarly, shelves of arcane artifacts, idol figurines and outdated quackery used in Victorian medicine give context to “Madness in the Gaze”.

As with the yellow wallpaper of Gillman’s story or the formless blots of the Rosarch test, it is left to the viewer to construct a response: are these women really mad and if so, is this insanity gruesome or as Saar proposes, does it allow these women to “escape ennui or misery from extreme powerlessness and wreak havoc while doing so”.

Saar’s works have been exhibited extensively in the United States and abroad. Her commitment to candid expression through art has earned her, among other awards, the J. Paul Getty Mid-Career Grant and the inclusion of her works in the California State Senate Contemporary Art Collection. She has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Artforum and many other publications.

For more information, please contact Merry Karnowsky at, 323.933.4408

Press Contact: Jessica O’Dowd

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