The WACKing the Piñata group exhibition, running July 8 to August 13 at ltd los angeles, continues and re-contextualizes the conversation begun by curator Connie Butler and over 100 female artists in the 2007 MOCA group exhibition WACK!: Art & the Feminist Revolution. Director Shirley Morales describes this very title as both a reference to and an epitomization of this new way of thinking about and exploring ‘The Feminine’ in contemporary art. The piñata itself serves as a “celebratory container” which when broken doesn’t represent a destruction, but more a dispersion and altered way of exploring and interacting with feminism.
The press release identifies the main focuses of the exhibition as “the male gaze, the body, ‘The Feminine’ inside and outside of gender, and universality of personal emotion”. Being a show exploring several inherently vague subjects within the works of ten artists it remains surprisingly succinct and concise. Its cohesive aura is one of celebration and outwardly expressed pride in feminist existence and perseverance in art.
Alison Veit’s wall-hung molded sand sculpture ‘Untitled’ (2016) epitomizes the female body and echoes the simplicity and straightforwardness of ancient art akin to the Paleolithic Period Venus figurines with eerie simplicity. This atemporal and transcendental sentiment is similarly depicted in her pieces ‘Incubus’ (2016) and ‘Carol’ (2016) as both androgyny and mythology are explored. In celebrating the mythical beauty of ‘The Feminine’ in art, Mira Dancy’s ink and acrylic paintings idolize and enhance all that is feminine and female, placing them into an almost comic-strip narrative that flows over borders and between frames.
Anja Salonen’s paintings take on the male gaze as it is experienced by the female. ‘An extreme form of togetherness’ (2016) depicts slumped nude bodies and exasperated expressions in bright hues, creating an uncomfortable convergence of aesthetic and subject. Enhancing this discomfort, her works exist in non-spaces. Salonen’s ‘Big year for redheads’ (2016) and ‘Make a beauty wish’ (2016) are installed as floating cutouts of a head and a hand holding a mirror, respectively. Taking up a whole wall, they subvert the universal expectation of where and how art is hung.
Similar in installation, Rachel Mason’s ‘Starseeds’ (2014) appears to descend sporadically over the length of a wall. The piece, referencing the New Age alien religion, comprises twenty dolls hand-made in the likeness of what the artist describes as “Dangerous Women”. These include Frida Khalo, Beyoncé and Ana Mendieta among other notable women. Their small bodies are covered in jagged pieces of mirror, almost asking that they not be handled, but admired and observed with caution.
‘My Black Ass’ (2016) by Tschabalala Self reiterates the theme of cautious admiration and asks the viewer to consider race and gender simultaneously. Totaling four-seconds, the digital animation rapidly switches between similar drawings of colorful female forms with their legs spread and heads making eye contact with the viewer. Though colorful and pleasingly gestural, the drawings also confront themes of eroticization and fetishization of the Black female body, arguably one of the more important conversations being had in such a modern feminist art show.
Jennifer Chan’s piece includes an inflated air mattress, two pillows and an iPad. The scene feels set in a female teenagers bedroom, as the bedspread on her piece ‘Body Party’ (2015) features various torsos of young male bodies. Their lack of heads anonymizes the figures and very pointedly explores the stereotypical ‘male’ gaze in reverse. The iPad plays a looped video called ‘Boyfriend [Nanyou]’ (2013-2014), a collage of pop music and teenage boys on webcams explaining female perception and things girls do and don’t like.
WACKing the Piñata effortlessly accomplishes the fairly uncommon practice of being both feminist and intersectional —exploring femininity from virtually all angles one could think to look as it further promotes a positive and inclusive dialogue surrounding gender and art politics. In contrast to the more institutional WACK!…, WACKing the Piñata includes a work by male artist Cédric Fargues. ‘botte de paille (bale of hay)’ (2016) is a digitally altered portrait of a large hay bale with a small pink bow across its top like a headband. A clear jab at the absurdity of engendered bodies (or bales). The gendered object is also found in the sculptures ‘Standing Women’ (2014) by Debora Delmar Corp. which adorn the front window space of the gallery as large houseplants wearing bras.
Outside of any bodies, human or otherwise, Sarah Faux’s paintings utilize abstraction and color over formal depiction to make their ethereal and observational motives clear. Made up of floating objects and detached body parts, Faux’s work converses easily with the other pieces, and among themselves (as they are installed almost always in pairs).
Mariah Garnett’s ‘Garbage, The City, And Death’ (2010) is a three-scene, eight-minute video depicting the re-imagining of parts of New German cinema film director Rainer Fassbinder’s play of the same name. Garnett and her long-lost, real-life half-sister, Joanna, play the parts of a pimp and a prostitute. The relationship between the two characters in the scenes simultaneously deteriorates along with the increasingly convoluted settings of each shot, starting in a detailed and object-heavy small car and ending in an aphotic and murky void.
WACKing the Piñata is a refreshing and un-intimidating take on a typically hot-button discussion about the many faces of and takes on feminism in art. Existing more in a place of wonder and curiosity than one of resentment, the show is progressive and honest, inviting virtually anyone to partake in the celebration of where feminism stands today, and the multitude of directions it could possibly take.**