Maureen Cavanaugh’s Lovey Loverson is a selection of paintings and small works on paper that initially seems to reinforce the common clichés of much “Post Feminist” or more recent “Chick Art.” These works, however, present a tightly knotted bundle of supposed contradictions: a cuteness that verges into the grotesque, an erotic voluptuousness that transforms into a Gothic severity, and a naïveté hiding a knowing cynicism that isn’t afraid to play the kitsch card when it suits her purposes. Many of the subjects and poses of these paintings are a subversive codex of iconic female images: the bather, the dancer, the lounger, the seductress. Popular fellow painters tilling similar areas in the fields of “Post Feminism” like John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage, and Karen Kilimnik seem to relish a pimp-like condescending approach to the viewer. Yet for the breadth of historical and contemporary references in these works, there remains in Cavanaugh’s work a stylistic sense that is at the same time more authentically expressionistic and, what Irving Sandler has quantified as, “pathetically” funky.
In “Taking Off the Pink 2” (2005), an anorexic female figure, back to the viewer, pulls a white blouse off over her head. Her transparent pink skirt arches out stiffly like a tutu, revealing her panties beneath. But for the accentuated contours of the attenuated body and the white daubes that highlights the spine, like an anatomy chart, this would approach classic cheesecake. A group of “cuddly” critters including a fawn, a squirrel, and an abstract peacock watch from the front in a swirl of pastel clouds. A bucolic semi-nude gloss on the Rococo appeal of Watteau and Fragonard, or cuteness gone creepy, akin to big eyed Keane Kids on crank?
In smaller works Cavanaugh is less concerned with the overall composition and finish, instead letting the rawness of pencil drawing on bare primed canvas contrast with more heavily worked details. In both “Ski Mask” (2005) and “Skull Cap” (2004) faces of friends appear behind masks, a frequently used device that here is brought to a spooky crescendo through aggressive brushwork and an odd distortion of intent. Though no ponies or puppy dogs are depicted, Cavanaugh does have her animal favorites inhabiting the paintings. Odd-looking birds that could be kingfishers or blue jays appear often, a kitty cat lounges on a chair back as it watches over “Kim” (2005), and a pair of “Cheetahs” (2005) rests under a sketched-in branch full of cardinals.
Life is becoming ever more complex. The demands that society and the media place on young women through their conflicting imperatives are unrealistic. Perhaps it’s this that Cavanaugh is confronting in her recent quirky paintings: a desire to be simultaneously a sexy vamp and a cuddly kid, an unsophisticated outsider and a knowing art world initiate. Beneath the rainbows and flowers, the babes in thongs and the swirling puffs of cotton candy, be careful. There might be razor blades hidden inside this pretty package from the “Valley of the Dolls.”
JAMES KALM has written extensively on the Brooklyn art scene. In 2006 he began posting video reviews of local art exhibitions at his two YouTube channels that have generated over six million views.
Mildred Thompson: Throughlines, Assemblages and Works on Paper from the 1960s to the 1990sBy Susan Harris
MARCH 2021 | ArtSeen
Mildred Thompson: Throughlines, Assemblages and Works on Paper from the 1960s to the 1990s cracks the veneer of the 20th century, modernist canon to highlight a little-known body of work by an African American abstract artist who, in spite of being overlooked and criticized for her race, gender, and style, remained resolute in her vision.
Leiko Ikemura: Anima Alma - Works 19812022By Jonathan Goodman
DEC 22–JAN 23 | ArtSeen
Born in Japan, Leiko Ikemura left for Spain to study language and art before moving to Switzerland and eventually to Germany, where she currently works. An artist of subtle feminist assertion, Ikemura has chosen in most paintings to represent women and in some instances children. Ikemura is well known in Europe and has shown extensively there, but this is her first exhibition in America. Her painting style tends to be diffuse and sensuous, in a manner not so distant from the art of someone like Marlene Dumas. Her training directed her toward a compelling mixture of figuration bordering on abstraction, even when she is rendering people.
Tony Cragg: Sculptures and Works on PaperBy Phyllis Tuchman
APRIL 2023 | ArtSeen
Possessing a well-honed, singular formal intelligence, Cragg breathes life into vibrant entities. He masterfully sets in motion rhythmic passages. Repetitive waves wash across his sculptures and enliven his compelling surfaces. His art is fluid, not unchangeable.
Rodrigo Valenzuela: New Works for a Post Worker’s WorldBy Robert R. Shane
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
Whether Valenzuelas imagery engages with present-day workers, utopic visions from a modernist past, or a futuristic sci-fi dystopia, capitalist structures of time come under critique throughout BRICs exhibition. His work defies the capitalist conceit of linear progress by showing us ongoing labor exploitation that reaches back to the beginning of the industrial era, and it revolts against the structures that systematically control the time of workers lives.