Four years ago, Mary Boone phoned me up. "David Salle loves the work of this woman Jocelyn Hobbie, Charlie. I want you to check it out for me."
Always willing to do the Boonester’s bidding, in spite of our frequently contentious relationship but because of its journalistic potential, I stopped by Hobbie’s Upper East Side studio. What I saw at first was one of the most beautiful women ever, a blonde reminiscent of Caroll Baker in Baby Doll. What I looked at next were some flat, surrealististic paintings of frightened, neurasthenic women, proving the old adage that the body and soul of the painter are often light years apart. The style was a bit of Magritte, a bit of Delvaux, and even though I recommended Hobbie to Boone, Mary passed.
Now, Jocelyn has emerged with a show of similar work at Bellwether, whose cartoonish esthetic fits her nicely. The paintings have the aura of eroticized Russian Orthodox icons, colorful and mildly stimulating. The flatness is a bit of a turnoff.
There is one small masterpiece in the exhibition, however, a side view of a woman in a yellow sweater, redolent of Gerhard Richter and Elizabeth Peyton. Let’s hope some discerning collector snapped this up.
Another old pal, the tomboyish genius Lisa Ruyter, exhibits a stunning series of gray, self-eroticized self-portraits at Team. At first glance, it’s difficult to imagine Lisa as possessing the surface sex appeal of Hobbie, but she pulls it off, baring her breasts and lounging come-hitherly like an elfin supermodel.
Ruyter’s colorful painting and brilliant intellect have turned me on deeply forever. Her coquettish self-regard in this must see show is, as they say in New Orleans, lagniappe.
After the visual turn-ons of Hobbie and Ruyter, I stopped by Kustera Tilton in search of the disappeared ‘90s conceptual-art star Kerri Scharlin. Anna Kustera gave me a kiss, and said, "Kerri’s been asking for you, Charlie." It’s Scharlin’s first solo since 1994, when she dropped out of the scene, got married, moved uptown and bore a couple of kids. For someone who once graced the cover of Artforum and the social pages of Vogue, it was a complete disappearance.
"Kerri’s daughter attends a private school in Manhattan," Kustera continued. Hence, the scary, eroticized Children of the Corn work which stared back cunningly, and which Scharlin has, mirabile dictu, painted herself. (Formerly, she commissioned other artists to paint her in many guises.)
Collectors may check their sensual reactions to this stuff at the door, but the work is delectable, the prices are right, Scharlin is art historically significant and apparently only two have been sold. An opportunity during auction week? Guess so.
These are three fascinating takes on the female gaze from the inside, as it were. It’s telling that post-Peyton, eroticism so dominates the minds of such different women. It can only be a nuanced, ambiguous response to the retardataire, skateboard-toting, videocentric nihilism of "young male artists," trumped in these shows by three sensual but wise women, far more wordly than their male counterparts. Vive la difference!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-editor of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).