"Bearings: The Female Figure," Mar. 30-Apr. 23, 2006, at PS122 Gallery, 150 First Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10009.
As our colleague Jerry Saltz might ask, "What would the art world look like if it solely consisted of works by women?" Part of the answer lies in an exquisitely installed show curated by the photographer Allen Frame at PS122 Gallery on East Ninth Street called "Bearings: the Female Figure," which consists of meditations on women by women in various media.
While some minor pieces by Sue Williams and Kiki Smith are included, the majority of the artwork is by little known, under-represented female artists. The show in toto is greater than the sum of its parts, indeed the installation in PS122's tiny, venerable space is one piece essentially, but there are nevertheless some gems here. The exhibition is only up for 12 days, Thursday through Sunday, until Apr. 23, 2006, and the prices are dirt cheap, so here goes --
Francesca Romeo shows Eleanor at 10 AM, a dark C-print of a naked woman sucking in a cigarette, part of her "Addiction" series, $700 in an edition of ten.
Pam Butler's psycho watercolors of Miss America contestants are a bargain at $375 apiece, framed. There's a riotous parody of Justine Kurland's nature photos by Jeanine Oleson and Ellen Lesperance called Bigfoot and Nioka 1, $2,300 for the C-print, edition of seven.
Especially beautiful is Sarah Lavigne’s black-and-white snap of a besotted, starry-eyed brunette kissing her blonde bride, $1,200, edition of seven. Barbara Nitke's charged but poignant 1983 portrait of porn actors, one tran, one not, with dildoes, called Mitch and Tiffany Clark, is a steal at $1,000.
Moving up the price ladder, veteran Washington conceptual artist Laura Elkins exhibits Atomic Mamie, her wistful, classic portrait of Mamie Eisenhower, part of her "First Ladies" series, priced at $6,500. Elinor Carucci, who's represented by the Edwynn Houk Gallery, has an operatic color shot of her mother and herself frolicking naked in bed, $5,500, edition of eight.
"Bearings" is a fascinating commentary on the influence of and inspiration for the Yale school of female photographers such as Katy Grannan and Malerie Marder, which exploded with the "Another Girl, Another Planet" exhibition at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery six years ago. Clearly, work by women about women, whether Berthe Morisot, Imogen Cunningham or whomever, long preceded that groundbreaking curation, though the "Planet" show has since blanketed the creative consciousness of women artists. The "Bearings" installation contains many works that are clearly derivative of its tenets.
The question "Bearings" posits is this: "Is there a female-on-female gaze that is more empathetic, more nuanced and even more saccharine than the male variety?" To quote Molly Bloom, the answer is "Yes," and the soft touch such work elicits is a pianissimo feminism, quietly alluring, thoughtful and much needed by the Chelsea establishment.
Its epitome in "Bearings" is Carrie Levy's saucy take on Gerhard Richter's elegant portrait of the back of his daughter's head. The blonde, naked head and shoulders laugh at and with us, from behind, as if to say that the truly feminine remains unseen in our world, and must be mined and divined. In other words, try a little tenderness.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-editor of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).