I spent much of the six hour bus ride (a Sunday evening in the summer is the worst time to drive into New York) from Boston to Manhattan scanning Time Out, creating my plan of attack for art viewing. At a friend’s suggestion I had already booked tickets to see Rineke Dijkstra and Paul Graham in conversation, so I knew I was going to dedicate an afternoon to Dijkstra’s show at the Guggenheim beforehand. To balance this out, I decided to explore a solo show by a young, emerging artist–a painter with a bright and playful palette.
The paintings in Ella Kruglayankaya’s show at Gavin Brown Enterprise are not great, but they are richly painted and savvy to our particular moment. The show is made up of, as the title suggests, paintings of women painting women (and the occasional man), playing with the old artistic archetype of the creation who comes to life and confront’s her creator–often aggressively or with disdain. In an amusing but unnerving reversal of Magritte’s Rape, many of the women have faces painted onto their voluptuous bodies, further disorienting the question of subject and drawing attention to their “lovely lady lumps”. These body-faces often express emotions, while the women themselves are painted with blank patterns where their faces should be: ego, body and image joust for attention and power.
A similar series to these was shown in the windows of Barney’s New York last year. As Kruglayanskaya noted in an interview for Barney’s website, she “didn’t have to change much” for them to function as window displays: the paintings are fairly graphic, commercial and eye-catching. Put into the department store environment they are ever so slightly subversive because of the curvaceousness of the women, and because they place themselves into the tepid and not particularly eye-opening form of feminist critique that suggests that women participate in our own objectification. But for the most part, like any painting put into that environment, they become props for consumption.
In the calm reverence of the gallery setting, the pieces gain gravitas, and their confusion and distrust of the painting medium and it’s historical depiction of women makes perfect sense. These pieces aren’t moving the conversation forward, but they are an entertaining and colorful reminder of just where we are.