Brown’s piece is included in “American Woman,” a group exhibition featuring only female artists at Allouche Benais Gallery. Group shows featuring all-women artists have swelled in popularity over the past few years, peaking shortly after Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Many of these shows, mounted in the frantic aftermath of a GOP takeover, presented themselves as urgent, necessary and political, battling toxic patriarchy via feminine creativity, softness, and collaboration.
Fast forward to 2020, when the belief that curation will save us, has revealed itself to be naive. While some of the artists in “American Woman” offer premonitions of a healed future, many experiments with playing in hell.
Emma Stern’s lubed up oil paintings depict tween girls in string bikinis and roller skates, caressing one another while wielding Katanas. Dead-eyed, skin a pearled pink, they evoke a video game version of a gutted girlboss future in which women have foregone their humanity to become #badass killer cuties.
In Raven Halfmoon’s stoneware bust, “Caddo Girl in a Material World,” a Native American woman’s face is overlaid with red Louis Vuitton logos. The graffitied luxury brand criticizes capitalism’s cannibalization of indigenous tradition while making it look good. Hein Koh’s soft sculptures of anthropomorphized junk food transforms edible indulgences into tantalizing creatures with lush lashes and amphibious tongues. Food, pleasure, and indulgence are often politicized for women: is an ice cream sundae rebellion or distraction?
Monica Kim Garza’s “New Year New Me” blends that classic New Year optimism with a dash of nihilism. In the painting, a woman in a pink thong and heels lifts a dumbbell over her head triumphantly. The piece acknowledges the importance of women depicting themselves as subjects rather than objects, in power and on their own terms. Yet the hashtag-like title nods to the difficulty of making real change rather than talking about it.
In the grey area between political resistance and giddy self-indulgence, the artists of “American Woman” toy with the strange state of mainstream, corporate feminism of today.
Written by Priscilla Frank
Ana Benaroya, Anne Vieux, Emma Stern, Hein Koh, Leah Guadagnoli, Melissa Brown, Monica Kim Garza, Raven Halfmoon, Shona Mcandrew, Sticky Monger, Swoon