Julia Jacquette The Table Setting
julia jacquetteat holly solomonby Berta Sichel
Julia Jacquette's first solo show in a New
York gallery is a success story. Thirty-one
years old and until now only a name in the
alternative art circuit, she is capable of
juggling the ideas of desire and
indecision, and of keeping both in the air.
Jacquette creates visually seductive
enamel-on-wood square panels, no larger
than 32 x 32 in., that display tempting
foods, lacy wedding dresses, perfectly
manicured hands adorned with expensive
jewelry, and elegant vases of red roses.
To these most feminine of images she adds
brief texts. Resembling drawings in old-
fashioned cookbooks or handmade bakery
signs, the paintings are tinted with
tragedy and humor--ultimately her own
sense of humor, flirting with seduction
and repulsion, simultaneously.
Adopting a provocatively ironic stance
towards these icons of unliberation,
Jacquette's work opens up the paradox of
our unending menu of desires--cravings
never satisfied even when indulged. Should
I eat or not? Should I get married or not?
Should I have beautiful hands and diamond
rings? Should my skin be smooth and silky?
Do these compulsions seem nonsensical?
Perhaps, but what is often forgotten is
that this useless behavior is already
imprinted in our modern psychological
blueprint. Through a charming, dulcet yet
conceptually guided work, Jacquette's
images continually remind us of this vain,
but commonplace, conduct.
With the exception of the two works in
which all the messages are compressed into
a single panel, such as The Table Setting
(Room Service), the narrative develops
through her arrangement of the panels,
numbering from four to twelve. Influenced by
poetry, she writes simply and directly,
hoping that the straightforward sentences
have a demanding meaning.
In Taste Your Mouth, for example, each of
the twelve 14 x 14 in. panels depict
different desserts: strawberry cake,
chocolate tart, ice cream, fruit salad and
other perverse temptations in a fat-free
world. Each panel contains a word, and when
combined, they read: "I Want to Know What it is
Like to Taste Your Mouth."
Jacquette's work does not have the critical
punch nor the didactic sense common in the
work of contemporary women artists like
Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer. Yet, she
clearly wants it to be inserted in the
current language of feminism. As many other
women artists of her generation who came
to age when feminist art had already
spent a great deal of energy criticizing
masculinity, Jacquette eschews preachiness.
She is looking for what is beyond the
standard feminist narratives and practices
in contemporary art. Between the vivacity
of the images and her tensioned context,
she has, in this exhibition, indeed,
succeeded in this and her other intentions.
Would she be satisfied?
BERTA SICHEL is an art writer and
independent curator. She teaches at the New
School for Social Research.