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Back to Reviews 96

TENT. (Part I),
1995. Video, 60 min.

© ArtNet Worldwide 1997

TENT. (Painting II),
1995. Acrylic on 
canvas, 72 x 103 in./
183 x 262 cm

cheryl donegan  
at basilico fine arts 
by Robert Mahoney

Cheryl Donegan is the artist who made a 
very funny video called Kiss My Royal Irish 
Arse (1992), in which she was shown mass-
producing shamrock paintings by dipping her 
derriere in green acryllic paint and 
lowering it onto paper. She has also done 
smaller graphic works fashioning figures 
out of handprints and other impressions. In 
the videodrome of Donegan's conceptualist 
musings upon art and art politics, painting 
always acts as a signifier of the creative 
In her new installation, titled "Tent," she 
exhibits three large canvases covered with 
simple self-portraits painted in a single 
color, blue in two cases and yellow ochre 
in the third. The works are illuminated only 
by the light from a single video monitor 
sitting on the floor, which plays in 
succession three one-hour videotapes 
documenting the arduous creation of each 
painting. The portraits themselves come out 
as simple iconic likenesses, mere masks put 
upon the idea of her body. In the 
videotapes, Donegan can be seen getting at 
the self-portraits from several angles. In 
one video she crouches upon the canvas and 
tries to negotiate the painting process 
against the crampy discomfort of her 
posture. The camera is forever focused in 
close, on her knees and hips. Donegan is 
dressed only in undershirt and panties.
In another tape, she paints in the dark, 
seemingly at night, and her state of 
undress (again, in underwear) gives the 
effort the air of sleepwalking, or perhaps 
of a nutty, Balzacian nightshift. By far 
the most effective videotape shows Donegan 
lying on the floor under the canvas. 
Wearing goggles along with her undershirt 
and panties, and accompanied by a casette 
of the Rolling Stones, Donegan sweats as 
she wrestles with the unwieldly fabric to 
get her bearings. The resulting self-
portraits, not surprisingly, are quite 
messed up but recapture the thrilling 
sureness of children's drawings. The 
semantic resonance of the piece--all 
eroticized by the video shots of the 
artist's cute flower-pantied crotch--turns 
Yves Klein on his head, makes Donegan into 
a make-believe Michelangelo at her own 
sizzling Sistine, recalls teenage secret-
smut-reading under bedcovers and even 
suggests, seeing her paint-smeared arms, 
some sort of surrogate "under the sheets" 
obsession. As the temperature rises, the 
meanings fill the gallery and embrace all 
the videos and canvases in the exciting 
aura of a woman artist struggling to find 
Basilico Fine Arts, New York
Mar. 23 - Apr. 20, 1996
Robert Mahoney is a New York art critic who 
also works as public information officer at 
the Queens Museum.