Ok, so this happened: this morning, as I was about to leave my hotel, there was some screaming and commotion in the hallway. A woman was yelling for help. I rushed outside and saw the staff, room service, the reception clerk, and some other hotel guests (military men, judging by their uniforms) swarm in from all corners an descend on the hotel room right next door to mine, where a young woman was standing in the door way, whimpering. She looked like she had just been on the way in or out of the shower (out, I think as I believe her hair was wet). She was half naked, or half dressed – but despite her state of undress, she did not look at all like she was “asking for it” – she just looked scared, in shock actually, and tried to compose herself as she struggled to give a coherent account of what had just happened.
She could hardly believe it herself: A man had just tried to gain access to her room, under the cover of returning her credit card from the liqueur store around the corner. She remembered having seen him in a nearby coffee shop, and he must have followed her from there to the store and back to the hotel and seen her enter the room. When she answered the door he tried pushing her inside, but she screamed and struggled and finally managed to scare him off with the words: “I’m pregnant, why don’t you leave me alone?” Not sure if it was this salute that made him retreat, or just the realization that the noise was attracting attention. The staff was looking at the security camera footage for images, but he had already fled the hotel. Police were called, etc.
I made my way back to my room, telling myself that is no “worse” being followed, threatened, assaulted, raped, or murdered in Philadelphia than in Chicago, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Viborg or anywhere else I have called “home.” But really, I just wanted to go home.
Instead I forced myself to go out and make my way to the ICA. As I left I saw the woman standing in the lobby, now fully dressed, but otherwise in a state of complete unraveling.
So, it is in this frame of mind I am reviewing the current show “Readykeulous!” which Nicole Eisenman co-curated with A.L Steiner – revisiting and expanding their 2011 exhibition “Readykeulous: The Hurtful Healer,” along with Eisenman’s first retrospective in a major American art museum (more about that later).
As I read in the accompanying leaflet (sadly, there is no catalogue of this great show) “the work in the show span a variety of text-based and text-inspired media, including painting, video, audio, sculpture, drawing, and choice selections from Ridykeulou’s exclusive PATRIArchives™.”
Just like the title, the works in the exhibition are packed with the punch of the lesbian experience and the related discrimination within the art-world, such as the Gorilla Girl’s revisited classic The Advantages of Being a Woman Lesbian Artist:
While I can’t claim that experience as my own I am right there with the anger and its associated catharsis: A lavender fist in the face of the frat-bro in-crowd of wheelers and dealers of that patriarchy.
The show is an energetic, upbeat fuck-you to all of that, and a funky collection of genres and cross-generational cross-pollination. An orgy of visual information appropriately jammed into the hallway between the water fountains and the lavatories.
Among my favorites is my former mentor Kathe Burkhart with one of her signature Liz Taylor portraits Suck my Dick. Full frontal and with her arms akimbo in her tussled hair, Liz’ button down shirt and jean buttons have come undone, her gyrating hips thrusting toward the viewer. Down there the painting is embellished with a black silicone dildo. Subtle it is not. The figure is surrounded on either side with rejection letters from galleries, museums and everything in between, to whom Ms. Burkhart has sent her portfolio over the years. Among them some Amsterdam art dealers, some bona fide jerks that I actually know. I feel you Kathe: Life sometimes can be ridykeulous!
The show is accompanied by a selection of paraphernalia from the archives: Correspondence, flyers, and even a misogynist candy bar wrapper have made the cut. What stands out (if only for its yellow-and-green-should-never-be-seen-color-scheme) is a vinyl bumper sticker, which reads:
“How’s My Painting? Call 1-800-EAT SHIT”
The main exhibition space houses Nicole Eisenman’s first (and not a minute too soon) major museum retrospective “Dear Nemesis,” spanning two decades of painting galore.
It begs the question: Is Nicole Eisenman the greatest painter alive and kicking in the US today? What do I know? What I do know is that this shit kicks ass! Ugliness is next to godliness in these paintings. Her crapshoot attitude to figuration is a hearty antidote to the empty calorie crapstraction we have been served much of late. If this is what she means by “eat shit!” can I have some more, please?
Nicole shits where she eats and her fertile grazing ground is a pasture of painterly references, her output a many-splendored tour the force through art history. In no particular order we see Picasso, Tom of Finland, David Hockney, Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Max Beckman, Holbein, Georg Grosz, Pierre Puvis de Chavanne and Toulouse Lautrec frolicking by. Breughel’s Blind Leading the Blind stagger across the foreground of The Triumph of Poverty – a complex composition of various figures, valiantly assembled in an around a wreck of a car on the road to nowhere. We don’t know where this will end, but is begins in the great American suburb, judging by the plastic sided bungalow in the background.
(The piece is signed conspicuously and prominently in the corner: NE09. Now, this is only speculation on my part, but since this is the only painting in the show that is signed in this manner, I will allow myself to speculate that this is a shout out to the “other” great figure painter who’s star was on the rise in 2009: “Hey Neo [Rauch], you wuss – lemme show you some real contemporary history painting!”)
Interbellum Berlin Biergarten Barflies meet and part, like ships in the night, or go down together, lips locked in punch drunk love. Gericault’s Medusa float comes sailing by. It is a party boat. Medusa is not ugly when you are drunk – you just have to squint to see her. She is beautiful and she is laughing. Belch.
The Stranger –a picture of a guy reading Camus’ novel in front of a carefully rendered bookcase filled with books, books, books—is so delicious I just wanna lick the paint right off of the canvas and his rudimentarily outlined woodcut of a face. His wooly sweater is a smear of Chromium Oxide green and the cover of the book he holds is a textbook example of graphic design stuck smack against the picture plane, like it was some bathroom mirror. How can these contradictory and discordant pictorial languages even co-exist within the same picture and sing in harmony?
–Therapy sessions and Tits! Tits! Tits!
Eisenman’s sculptural work is represented by five busts, all titled Sleeping Frat Guy, indebted to Balkenhol, Basquiat, and Brancusi in equal measure. Sex objects, literally. It’s lump, it’s lump, it’s lump, it’s in my head. They wear little tokens on leather strings around their necks, lending their douchebag air a disarming hippie edge. The hottest one of them has passed out, mouth open, with his head tilted back at a 90 degree angle. In profile he looks just like Wolfgang Tilman’s iconic photograph of Damon Albarn in the shower. Yummy.
I am stuffed.
As I return to the hotel, Philly’s finest are crawling the hallway on all fours, combing the vomit colored carpet for forensic evidence. I ask if they have found the guy and they assure me they are working on it. Fucking reassuring that is. This shit is real. I mumble an offer to give a witness report, and they wave me off with a “Thank you, Maam!” before I shuffle back into my room; I’m just gonna stay in and write tonight.
Would I have felt different about it all and would this review have had a different flavor, if instead of this morning incidence, I had been helped across the street by a friendly neighborhood frat bro, like the frail little old lady I am today? Probably, but this has yet to happen to me.