'The Future is Female'November, 2016 - May, 2017
About the Exhibition
Gleaming acrylic fingernails glued into patterned, reptilian forms that emerge from the wall; barnacles and ceramic teeth encrusted in life-size human figures in decay; cement seeping through lace and paint; haunting words about the present overlaid on imagery of the past: surface tension abounds in this exploration of contemporary feminist art from the 21c collection. The second exhibition organized in honor of 21c’s tenth anniversary, The Future is Female expands upon the themes of A Global Gathering—portraiture, politics, and the environment—through radical transformations of materials, myths, and art-making.
Female identity and experience is often the subject of Frances Goodman’s multi-media investigations, including Medusa, a many-tentacled wall sculpture titled after the mythological Greek monster with a woman’s form and face, but a head full of writhing snakes in place of hair. Medusa’s weapon was her stare: she turned her victims to stone with one look into their eyes. Goodman’s appropriation of the myth subverts the convention of the “male gaze,” the theory first posited by writer Laura Mulvey in a 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” that women are represented as objects to be seen in art, men as seeing. Makeup, jewelry, and other forms of self-adornment have long served as women’s weapons to make themselves seen (in competition with others) and as armature under which to hide (masking or protecting the real, vulnerable self). For this three-dimensional investigation into female representation and consumerism, Goodman utilized thousands of the acrylic nails designed for use as bodily decoration after she heard a dropped fake nail described as the ultimate female calling card—a weapon of seduction.
Goodman’s labor-intensive technique and use of an inexpensive, commercially produced object designed for self-adornment connects her work to that of 70s feminist artists: As curator Tami Katz Freiman writes, “Goodman thus joins a respectable lineage of women artists who brought elements previously relegated to the inferior margins of kitsch and decoration center stage. Her art…elevates what was once relegated to world of women as folklore or bourgeois pastime and endows it with new meaning and content…the use of acrylic fingernails—a popular consumer product, a cosmetic prosthetic that blurs the boundaries of the body and presents an illusory substitute for ‘the natural,’ the seemingly innocent ornamental pattern appears as a parable for the web of affinities between flesh, body, nature, culture, ornamentation, beautification, seduction, and consumerism.”
Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, Museum Director