NO MAN’S LAND: Re-Think the Nude

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
An installation view of a gallery space with white walls and a gray floor. There are several art pieces hanging on the walls. On the left, a huge textile piece made of several bags in an orange fabric takes up a big part of the room. Another art piece shows skulls on an orange checkered background. On the right wall is an abstract art piece made of several orange, white, and black stripes that causes an optical illusion.

Contemporary large-scale paintings and sculptural hybrids are on view in NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection. The exhibition imagines a visual conversation between 37 women artists from 15 countries exploring images of the female body and the physical process of making. Mira Dancy, Isa Genzken, and Mickalene Thomas use images of the female nude in unexpected ways.

A neon light installation in the shape of a nude women sitting. With her right hand, she is holding her head back. The neon lights are blue and have a cold hue.
Mira Dancy, Street Ofelia (neon blue), 2014; Neon, 60 x 48 in.; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

What’s On View?

Mira Dancy’s Street Ofelia (neon blue), 2014

Mira Dancy (b. 1979, England) says that while her work “revolves around making paintings” her process often “extends into other forms,” including neon, vinyl, Plexiglas, video, and poetry.
In her work, Dancy is interested in creating images of women that “summon the implicit trauma that comes with subjecthood, the gaps that are forged between an inner and outer being.” Dancy’s nudes serve as explorations of broader ideas through the use of the female body. “The bodies I paint are not realistic,” she says. “I often think of them as wearing ‘nude suits.’ Their flesh is silver, blue, green, red, hot pink. The body is not the subject, but the medium.”

Isa Genzken’s Schauspieler, 2013

A mannequin is standing in a gallery space. She is wearing black gloves, sunglasses, and has lines drawn over her upper body, imitating the lines a doctor makes before a plastic surgery procedure.
Isa Genzken, Schauspieler, 2013; Mixed media, 72 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Isa Genzken (b. 1948, Bad Oldesloe, Germany) once said, “I want to animate the viewers, hold a mirror up to them.” This attitude is evident in Schauspieler, from a series of life-size mannequins that “appear indistinguishable from those in department store windows,” but are “disrupted by lines of spray paint on their bodies, tape wrapped around their mouths, and other interferences.”

Schauspieler, meaning “actor,” critiques capitalism and commodification of the female body. The figure’s wig, glasses, and drawn markings—evocative of plastic surgery—point to the futility women face in their efforts to conform to an unobtainable physical ideal. Through the “role reversal” of channeling art-viewers, Genzken challenges the public to think differently about representations of the female body.

Mickalene Thomas’s Whatever You Want, 2004

A woman with a medium-dark skin tone is sitting on a floral sofa before a wooden wall. She has her hair in an afro and is wearing gold hoops and a floral short that exposes her upper body. Her hair is made of rhinestones, as are her earring, her shirt, and the couch, giving the image a glamorous seventies-vibe.
Mickalene Thomas, Whatever You Want, 2004; Acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on panel, 48 x 36 in.; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971, Camden, New Jersey) reproduces her own photographs as paintings with acrylic, enamel, collage, and rhinestones. Drawing inspiration from sources ranging from 19th-century French painting to 1970s Blaxploitation films, Thomas’s work attempts to “inject black women into the art historical canon.”

Whatever You Want features a black female protagonist in a pose referencing the portrayal of white female nudes in the Western painting tradition. Thomas’s figures typically meet the viewer’s gaze “while lounging in outlandishly patterned interiors and exuding an aggressive sexuality.” Their confrontational gazes contain “awareness: they exist, are present, and they are not going to let you go away easily.” By portraying “real women with their own unique history, beauty, and background,” Thomas broadens the representations of black women in art.

Reserve your spot to meet artist Mira Dancy at NMWA on December 13, 2016 for a special in-gallery conversation. Visit the museum and explore NO MAN’S LAND, on view through January 8, 2017.

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