Sunday, October 21, 2012

Forbidden Pleasures

Forbidden Pleasures from the series Cheap Thrills, 11" x 14", vintage cibachrome, © Jo Ann Callis

Viewing a work by Jo Ann Callis can be jolting.  Callis refuses to allow her viewer to be lost in a world of mundane domesticity.  Callis points to the sensational within the home where fowl fly from enflamed dinner plates, and goldfish swim amongst green beans in the kitchen sink.  Many of Callis' constructed images from the late 70's through the early 90's rely on the use of food or the space of the kitchen and dining room.

In "Man at a Table, after David Evans," the white on white floral patterned tablecloth stained red from what appears to be a wine spill engulfing half of the table covering, brings to mind virginity and the wedding gown. Within the image, a man sits with his back to the table choosing to face the wall instead.  Like many of the human subjects included in Callis' works, he maintains anonymity. Callis seems to insist on revealing very little about the human characters that inhabit these uncanny spaces. In "Black Tablecloth," the male and female seated subjects remain anonymous yet their body language juxtaposed with two breakfast bowls, one full and one empty, communicates volumes as to their interior emotional states. 

Other works such as “Forbidden Pleasures,” entirely lack the physical presence of humans yet continue to call attention to gender and the body.  The anthropomorphic pie holes, donut rounds and side by side cream puffs topped with cherries, placed upon household fabrics with textures, folds and creases allow one to practically feel the phallic and yonic objects oscillating between the desirable and the grotesque.  Although Callis’ staging of imagery is quite controlled, the work continues to allow viewers their own space.  “Dish Trick” connotes numerous narrative possibilities around the division of household labor, domestic spats and desires, and illusions of all kinds. 

Selections from Callis’ “Forbidden Pleasures” were recently included in the exhibition “Nine X Nine In Color” at the Rose Gallery.  Jo Ann Callis teaches at California Institute of the Arts including a class entitled “Art & Food.”
  Salt, Pepper, Fire, 1980, 22 1/2 " x 17 1/2", Dye transfer print, © Jo Ann Callis

Goldfish and String Beans, 1980, 17 1/4" x 22 3/4", Dye transfer print, © Jo Ann Callis
Man at Table, after David Evans, 1977, 14 1/8" x 17 5/6", Chromogenic print, © Jo Ann Callis
Black Tablecloth, 1979, 16 3/4" x 21 1/4", Dye transfer print, © Jo Ann Callis
Dish Trick, 1985, 29 15/16" x 40 1/16", Cibachrome print, © Jo Ann Callis

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cindy's Taste

Untitled #150, 1985, Chromogenic color print, 49 1/2" X 66 3/4"
A breast full of milk, a brown bag full of spilled groceries, a cluster of grapes, a cup full of party punch and a kitchen towel full of spring onions are amongst the props used by Cindy Sherman within her many photographic portraits.  For over 35 years Sherman has been exploring the female archetype by transforming herself into numerous subjects.  Sherman is both the photographer and model; however, the works are not intended as self-portraits.  Through her duality of model and photographer, Sherman calls attention to the often-problematic power dynamic between the photographer and subject.

A selection of the early film stills plays with the construction of identity in the domestic space of the kitchen, where groceries like Morton’s salt and eggs may symbolize ideas of loyalty, purification or fertility. The subjects, referencing generic types of cinematic characters, gaze out of the frame seemingly returning the gaze of a secondary subject whom the viewer is unable to see.  The subject’s body disappears entirely in “Untitled 175” and “Untitled 182,” appearing to be reduced to a landscape of body fluids amongst a broken plate, spoon, brownies, popcorn and other baked goods.  A pair of sunglasses offers a faint reflection of a pig snouted woman baring witness to the abject scene.

Unlike the pre packaged or manufactured food used in early works, Sherman turns to grapes and mother’s milk to reference Old Master paintings in “Untitled 216”, “Untitled 224” and “Untitled 225.” The use of food as props, once again, contributes to the subject’s assigned class while simultaneously suggesting ideas of nourishment, purity and life. The portraits become uncanny as they fluctuate between the familiar and the grotesque.  In playing with the representation between painter and model, Sherman masquerades as a man as seen in “Untitled 224.”   Sherman’s play on gender continues to shift through the series of clown portraits.  The bottle of pink soda pop grasped by the clown of “Untitled 415” stands in as both phallus and possible irresistible treat to be desired by an unsuspecting child.

Sherman’s vanity portraits of 2007 and 2008 suggest the failed actress or model longing for youth.  The use of the plastic cup connotes a festive atmosphere often associated with the college party.  In particular, the red plastic party cup is a tool often used by under aged drinkers in hopes of disguising their alcoholic beverage of choice.  The subjects in Sherman’s works “Untitled # 461” and “Untitled #463” both appear well beyond their college years and the legal drinking age, which contributes to their desperation.  In the 2010 work “Untitled,” Sherman produced a pigment print on PhotoTex adhesive fabric, which is installed directly onto the wall.  Sherman masquerades as an exhausted rural farmer appearing in an uneasy psychological state while half-heartedly displaying her crop of recently harvested spring onions.  Although Sherman’s practice is clearly not about the exploration of food and drink, it is of interest to note her use of the edible to depict ideas about identity, social class or one’s place within history.  Cindy Sherman’s retrospective is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through October 8, 2012.

 Untitled Film Still # 3, 1977, Gelatin silver print, 7 1/16" x 9 7/16"

 Untitled Film Still # 10, 1978, Gelatin silver print, 7 5/16" x 9 7/16"

 Untitled # 70, 1980, Chromogenic color print, 16" X 23 15/16"

Untitled #132, 1984, Chromogenic color print, 67" X 47"

 Untitled #175, 1987, Chromogenic color print, 46 7/8" X 71 1/2"

Untitled #182, 1987, Chromogenic color print, 7' 5 1/2" X 59 1/2"

 Untitled #216, 1989, Chromogenic color print, 7' 3 1/8" X 56 1/8"

 Untitled #224, 1990, Chromogenic color print, 48" X 38"

 Untitled #225, 1990, Chromogenic color print, 48" X 33"

 Untitled #415, 2004, Chromogenic color print, 68" X 44 1/2"

 Untitled #461, 2007 - 08, Chromogenic color print, 60 1/2 " X 48"

 Untitled #463, 2007 - 08, Chromogenic color print, 68 5/8 " X 72"

 Untitled , 2010, Pigment print on PhotoTex adhesive fabric,dimensions variable