I’m going to discuss one image—with works from two female-identifying artists. The image is taken by an anonymous photographer that documented the two-person exhibition A Strange Relative at Perrotin New York in late 2018. The exhibition, a two-person dialogue between Brooklyn-based ceramicist Genesis Belanger and painter Emily Mae Smith is described by Perrotin as two “discrete bodies of work unto themselves, that speak to each other across disciplines in surefooted, refreshing solidarity.”
Genesis Belanger’s work within this image, Double Standard (2018), consists of a hyperreal and satirized chaise lounge with cigarettes for legs— depicted to be bending and crumbling from the weight of the lounge. Constructed from fabric, foam, plywood, and concrete this lounge is as made as it is imagined. Its fictionality and functionality serves an uncanny reminder that our anxieties and socially constructed worries are often times rendered real. That sly joke that you felt was just a little too flirtatious from your superior, but perhaps you’re just imagining it—usually is too flirtatious. Upon the chaise lounge sits an exquisitely rendered bouquet of roses, made tenderly from stoneware and porcelain. Tossed off by the recipient of these flowers surely upon their discovery of amputated fingers, dangling and flaccid amongst the firm and lively roses.
Belanger’s snarky ceramic work critiquing patriarchal systems of power—as well as the predominately white female gatekeepers that uphold them—are synchronistically witty, nostalgic, and futuristic. Double Standard presents itself as the future’s nostalgia for what we look at with nostalgic tendencies, now (ie any set design referencing the 1950s or Mad Men chic) whilst knowingly recognizing that which is problematic. It’s hyperbolic but somehow rendered neutralized.
Hovering above Belanger’s sculptural work is Smith’s painting The Drawing Room (2018). Pictured is a limp, alien-like figure. This figure is certainly not anthropomorphized. It has no features at all. It’s a tube, a line, a worm? Its gender is indicated as female only by the flowing gown (what is actually the window drapery pulled and manipulated around the body). It is seated—on a chaise lounge—meticulously leaning over a drawing pad and thoroughly investigating the Disney-esque sunset. This figure is a stand in for those ladies taught to paint or draw as an activity to occupy their ‘leisure time’ before there was such a construct— Smith locates the same ironic nostalgia that is used within Belanger’s work and tilts it to analyze white feminism and privilege of the now.
The exhibition, as well as this specific tableau, depicts a narrative espousing the identities formulated and assumed by commercialism and our grappling need to identify ourselves with the objects we place within our reach. Belanger’s cigarettes are an object of identity. They display class, value set, and rebelliousness. Formally successful, the work begs the question of how an artist is to construct critique of a class system they are actively participating in by placing the work within a boutique commercial gallery space in the first place.
It is deliciously well crafted and funny as hell, though.