Jana Euler: High In Amsterdam. The Sky Of Amsterdam (The Stedelijk Museum- Amsterdam)

Hi everyone!

Thanks for checking out CanvasAndCrumpets.  As you may know, I just got back from my Euro Trip and I’ve been posting about the exhibits I saw in order. I recently posted about three different exhibitions I saw in England. You can check them out here, here, and here. After a week of museuming and eating bangers and mash with my English cousins, I flew to the Netherlands.  On my flight I was seated in the middle of a large bachelor party, next to the groom-to-be-himself. If you have the chance to travel with a very drunk bachelor party you absolutely must take it because it was the best flight I’ve ever had. There was also a large party of middle-aged-women wearing shirts that said “F*** off, I’m with the birthday boy” and a rather emo looking high school student wearing a shirt that said “F*** off, I’m the birthday boy.” All of the women were screaming.

And so, I arrived in Amsterdam slightly tipsy and very excited. The city did not disappoint (as always!) At the absolute top of my list was a trip to the Stedelijk Museum. The Stedelijk is where I fell in love with Dutch art, and where I did much of my research for my senior thesis. I’m obsessed with the art, the building, the library, and the now deceased museum director Willem Sandberg. (I’m currently reading a compilation of Sandberg interviews).

On view at the Stedelijk right now is the exhibition, “Jana Euler: High in Amsterdam. The Sky of Amsterdam.” While it is difficult to read that sentence without immediately thinking of Dutch drug policy, it would be remiss to read off the German artists’ trippy canvases as mere mushroom-inspired dreamscapes. Euler’s works are explorations of different genres. She takes the concepts and strategies associates with each and plays with them, bending them inside-out. The Stedelijk describes Euler’s work as being “recognizable not by how it looks, but by its effect.” Let’s take a look at my favorite work from this show and see Euler’s process in action.

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Here is the ethereal Understanding Doubts and Logic (2017):

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For this work Euler airbrushed acrylic paint onto the surface of the canvas and then used oil paint on top. The two layers operate as separate paintings as well as aspects of a finished whole. The airbrushed layer features a multi-limbed and multi-breasted female figure resting in a garden filled with flowers. The oil layer features shoes, nail polish, and fake eyelashes. If you look closely, you’ll also see that there are tiny pictures of men sitting at a table with a bottle of wine painted in thin brushstrokes of oil paint. Stranger yet is the fact that white breastmilk from each of the figure’s many breasts pours into the bottles at the men’s tables. Oil is also used to spell the phrase “understanding doubts and logic” and to connect this phrase to a yellow sun by way of a thin yellow line.

Now, I have a lot of thoughts about this painting and what it might “mean.” So I’ll begin by saying that Jana Euler’s work is not explicitly symbolic. It does not fit into an allegorical box that matches icon with signification. Rather, it suggests a multiplicity of signification for various images across the canvas. It points to potential interpretations without maintaining that it must be read a specific way. And so, my reading should be seen as one angle of many that fit Euler’s multifaceted work.

I see Understanding Doubts and Logic as a blend of two genres: the female nude, and the sort of impressionistic cafe paintings that were popular in late 19th-century Parisian art. The airbrushed painting is the nude, as the naked figure takes up the majority of the canvas. Her head heads several inches below the top of the canvas, and her many feet end slightly before it, or have their toes chopped off by the bottom of the canvas. Because she fills the canvas, the focus of the painting is on her. The viewer’s eyes are free to travel across the surface of the painting, consuming different parts of her body at every turn. We as viewers fill the role of the voyeur in the relationship between viewer and subject in this genre. Euler is keenly aware of this dynamic and playfully mocks it by multiplying the subject’s breasts. Euler seems to be saying, “I know you’re going to look at this woman, so why don’t I give you a lot more to look at!” The artist has also multiplied the amount of feet in the painting. I find this very amusing, as it is clear to all that feet were never the focus of the viewer’s gaze.

Another way that Euler plays into this genre is through the figure’s gaze. In classic female nudes like this and this the female figure looks away from the viewer, allowing him to consume her without confrontation. Making eye contact would break the illusion that she wants to be consumed and is there for male consumption. She would be individualized. No longer staring at an anonymous doll, the viewer would feel confronted by the figure and embarrassed by his blatant ogling. And so, restricting eye contact allows the viewer to consume the figure in peace. Like the academic nudes do, Euler’s figure looks away demurely, allowing the viewer to get lost in her multitude of breasts and legs.

However, the longer we stare at the figure, the more we begin to feel that we are being made fun of. Not only has Euler multiplied the significance of the figure’s gender through the multiplication of breasts, but she has also aggressively emphasized other aspects of femininity. The long, curling eyelashes added over the airbrushed layer of paint are so ludicrously long it would be difficult for the figure to open her eyes. There are many kiss imprints haphazardly stamped on the surface of the painting. The figure’s red fingernails are half the size of her fingers themselves. Her breasts are many different colors, as if the figure is somehow able to be many ethnicities at once and therefore satisfy the male viewer’s many racial fantasies. Euler has created a woman who screams “WOMAN” so loudly that she becomes a parody of what the voyeuristic male wants– and expects– women to be.

This interpretation is supported by the second layer of the painting that I find resembles the cafe scenes in impressionistic France. Men outlined in black paint sit around a table drinking from proportionally enormous bottles of wine. I am reminded of 19th century cafe scenes because of the leisurely, gendered nature of each tableau. I find it comical that the female figure has been so artfully constructed with layers of paint and bright, vibrant colors, while the males are designated to mere outlines of form. While painterly attention to the female body is often objectifying, Euler’s self-conscious multiplication of gendered body parts is actually empowering. Thus, the contrast between the colorful female figure and the haphazard outlines of teeny male figures renders the male characters inferior. Euler further emasculates them by unknowingly serving them wine bottles filled with breastmilk. Droplets of white paint spill from each nipple into a bottle on each table. This is perhaps the most amusing aspect of this painting. Euler has taken the sexist notion that a woman’s role is as a wife and mother alone and used it to turn the power dynamic between men and women on its head. The men are infantilized by their small size, simplistic depiction, and the hysterical fact that they are drinking a woman’s breastmilk.

Here are Lara (my travel pal) and I, very amused at this:

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So what do we take away from Understanding Doubts and Logic? I quite like the interpretation I just presented, though I am not sure how the title fits in. Perhaps the female creature, whose forehead bears this phrase, is somehow all-knowing in her female genius. She can understand both the understandable and what we doubt we can comprehend. I come away from this painting feeling empowered and amused. Euler has turned gender dynamics on their head with a coy smile. Her belittling depiction of men is not a statement that women are actually superior, but a commentary on the way the reverse is so prevalent in our society.

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The point of this book is that the so-called weaknesses attributed to underdogs are actually qualities that give them an advantage against their opponent. Euler has taken the “weaknesses” of women that the patriarchy attributes to the “fairer gender” and turned them into symbols of power. Breastmilk and long eyelashes signify greatness and strength.

Until next time!

xoxo,

Chloe ❤

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Lisa Yuskavage (David Zwirner Gallery- NYC)

When I was little I was obsessed with fantasy. I even had an encyclopedia for everything fantasy related. On the busy crosstown bus I would explain to my mother the difference between a dryad (tree nymph) and a hamadryad (nymph of an individual tree), as well as what characterized a nereid (a sea nymph) and a naiad (a river nymph). When I was eight I started crying when I found out fairies weren’t real.

So it’s no surprise that I absolutely fell in love with Lisa Yuskavage’s ethereal, otherworldly paintings at David Zwirner. While her figures do not fall specifically into the categories my encyclopedia outlined, they are reminiscent of nature spirits. One can see the resemblance in their upturned noses, windswept hair, and at times, otherworldly skin coloring. Their nudity is a part of their existence as well, rather than a reflection of a moment during which they are unclothed. What makes these images most fascinating to me, however, is the moments of reality woven into the ethereal. A scarf, a rain boot, or even evidence of conflict ground these fantastical paintings in the contemporary.

Here is a striking painting entitled “Bonfire” (2013-2015).

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The painting has been completed on two separate canvases hung next to each other. The same, or a similar-looking, sprite is pictured on each canvas, facing opposite directions. Her upturned nose, perky breasts, and rounded belly emphasize fertility and give her an earthy, fairy-like quality. Her skin is tinted green like the trees, grass, and sky. On the first canvas on the viewer’s left, buxom creatures behind her celebrate together. Some grasp hands and dance, while other’s embrace. A thin yellow light peeks through a thick green cloud. It looks like some kind of pagan ritual. On the other canvas, the image of the sprite is merely flipped over, but behind her, the voluptuous creatures yield swords and axes. An orange flame leaps out from a pile of sticks. It is not entirely clear what these creatures are doing, but the representation of fire and weapons creates a fearsome mood quite opposite the celebratory one in the first panel. A moon hides behind the tree, emphasizing the contrasting nature of the two scenes. The title of the entire painting is “Bonfire,” which makes me wonder if, perhaps, it is a person who will be going into the bonfire. The crude, fantastic, perhaps pagan, nature of this world do not rule out this possibility. The result is an ominous painting that presents a different world that plays by a different set of rules. It is both tantalizing- the naked, fertile sprite draws the eye all over her body- and scary. Yet even this fear is thrilling. It is as if we are watching a fantasy film play out with oil paint.

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This is “My Rainbow Scarf” (2013), another stunning painting from the exhibit.

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This figure also appears other-worldly because her silver-beige skin matches the coloring of her surroundings, a quality of camouflaging nature spirits. Her hair is a mess of grey curls, dotted with flowers. Her pubic hair is thick, emphasizing her wildness and also her sexuality, both also characteristics of fantasy elves. She cradles a piece of grass between her fingers in a teasing motion, echoed by the look she gives the viewer. Her eyes are half-hidden behind masses of curls, but she still gives us a sideways smirk with an upturned lip.

Behind her, white-clad people work the land. They similarly blend into the background. Is this a commune? A cult? A fairy circle? One’s imagination can swirl like the bits of brown and grey smoke lifting this painting up, and yet something brings us back to the present: this figure’s colorful scarf. It is yellow and flecked with green, red, blue and orange, draped stylishly around her neck and sashaying out of the corner of the painting. The scarf looks contemporary and out of place with the rest of  “My Rainbow Scarf.” In a very fantastical interpretation, this nymph has found the scarf dropped by a human and decided to wear it, and is giving the viewer and impish smile that says “I stole this from you.” But there is also a possibility that Yuskavage meant something deeper when she placed this scarf on her protagonist. Perhaps it is meant to lend humanity to the figures, and suggest something else about people in general: We are all part of the earth, no matter how much we try to separate ourselves from it.

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“In the Park” (2014) provides a similar idea.

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This girl bears features from this world and another. Her bikini tan line is a product of contemporary social norms- a fairy would not be wearing a bikini. Her green rain boots are also manmade products. Her stance, a little pigeon toed- is impish and young, in a way that doesn’t match her developed body. But it gives her an otherworldly air in that it makes her seem like she is trying to inhabit things that don’t belong to her. She is not a child trying on her mother’s shoes. She seems like a creature, a pubescent one at that, who is playing pretend with human garments and norms.

Her wispy blonde hair and red puffy cheeks also create a youthfulness that is uncomfortable given her physical development. It is uncomfortable to see someone who looks so young seem so fetishized- perhaps that is why I am choosing the interpretation that she is merely a nymph, a creature who always looks childlike. Yuskavage’s choice to keep this figure’s representation on the line between child and creature creates discomfort that is very likely intentional. It makes one think about the sexualization of young girls and how the media- even fantasy genres- reinforce this phenomenon.

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“Dude of Sorrows” (2015) is a little different from the other paintings.

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For one thing, it features a man, not a woman. Other paintings in the exhibit featured naked men in a way that sexualizes them just as much as women are in the previous paintings. But I want to focus on this one because it really drew me in. I was struck by the contrast between his charcoal skin and his rainbow beard. The necklace around his neck looks like a string of dog tags to me, which could loosely identify this man as a soldier or veteran (feel free to argue with me on that one). His right eye is extremely swollen. He could have been injured in a fight or battle. The naked and sexualized quality of these figures could also mean that syphilis has affected his eye. Regardless of the reason for his discomfort, it is clear that this “Dude of Sorrows” is indeed very sorrowful. The grayness of the canvas emphasizes this. And yet, his bears and tufts of his hair are incredibly colorful. Is this the manifestation of hope? Is the painting in transition from gray to rainbow? Or is the transition going in reverse. Will all of his hair slowly turn gray as well to match the rest of the canvas? We are meant to wonder. I am left thinking about his future, and whether the joyous pink near his cheek will be enough to help him pull through. Yuskavage uses color to emotionally connect with her audience. Without the color gradient, this would just be another painting of a sad man.

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This exhibit closes June 13th. I highly recommend it. Yuskavage appeals to the child and the adult in all of us… keep an eye out for Hippies (2013) which inspired the whole exhibit. Does that make you curious? Head down to David Zwirner to see for yourself!!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

Greer Lankton- LOVE ME (Participant Inc, NYC)

Art can have many purposes. On canvasandcrumpets I have looked at the role art can play in confronting social issues and in encapsulating history. It can also be an outlet for exploring one’s identity. Yesterday, I witnessed Greer Lankton’s own personal discovery of self-identity in her post-humous retrospective, LOVE ME, at Participant Inc. Lankton, who passed away in 1996, was a popular artist in the East Village art scene in the 1980’s. She also happened to be transgender. Gender and sexuality play an important role in her art, as does her personal relationship with her own body. Lankston’s elaborate, often bizarre, dolls, modeled off both herself and celebrities, reveal her fascination with anatomy and the social constructs surrounding it. LOVE ME is a compilation of her dolls, photographs, drawings, and paraphernalia from her life.

LOVE ME closes on December 21st. I urge any who can to see this exhibit because it is truly a remarkable exhibit of a fascinating artist’s life. Furthermore, the primary form of Lankston’s art- dolls- is extraordinary.

Here are several images of Lankston’s dolls:

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The dolls are similarly emaciated, and for the most part, nude. Their genitalia is exposed and the dolls carry themselves with distinct personalities. Many bear semblance to Lankton’s face, with the exception of the Jackie Onassis doll on the right of the second image. From my perspective as a viewer new to Lankton’s work, these dolls appear to be self-portraits embodying her feelings towards herself. In the first she positions herself wearing red heels and lipstick, confidently, even seductively, posing. In the central doll in the second image, she glares at the viewer, inviting the viewer to judge her, and silently replying that she doesn’t care what we think. Yet in the third image, the doll has been torn apart from the inside. Her organs spill out, only attached to the rest of her body by flimsy wire. Her face is skeletal and gaunt; it is a remnant of her past self. I have a difficult time understanding what this doll meant to Lankton. Her art so closely mirrored the events in her personal life that it is hard to step into her shoes as an artist. Perhaps this doll is a manifestation of confusion or even shame that she may have felt at one time towards her body. The skeletal face suggests the decay of a corpse. Maybe this doll is a reflection on death and the ever-decaying nature of the human body. I invite you to interpret differently!

Lankton also took many photographs of herself WITH these dolls. One I found particularly strange and memorable is this:

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My first reaction was to think how morbid and creepy the photograph was. Yet at the same time, there is something so compelling about it that kept me staring at it. The juxtaposition of Lankton’s beautiful, grinning face with bloodied dolls creates an uncanny image that is hard to make sense of. Some of the dolls are bulbous, others are emaciated. And Lankton is nude in the middle of it, apparently in the midst of a bath. It makes one question the very nature of bodies. Why are we so disgusted by the simple portrayal of naked figures? Are they not aesthetically pleasing because they are thin, or fat, or seem to be sexually ambiguous? Lankton’s ease suggests she doesn’t care about what these bodies look like. And the viewer, put off by the grotesque scene, wonders why he or she is disgusted in the first place. Is it the sight of naked bodies that is off-putting? And if so, why is there such a social taboo against it? Furthermore, the prominent red cross on one of the dolls is jarring, considering the sexual connotations of the photograph. Lankton pokes fun at religion, and its effects on social norms, by including the symbol of the cross in her orgy of fabric bodies. It is my interpretation that Lankton used humor to confront religious homophobia.

LOVE ME features images of Lankton as well, posing for various photographers. One that I liked particularly is this one:

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I found it particularly haunting, and very beautiful. One can see how she exaggerated her high cheek bones and large eyes in her self-portrait dolls.

The exhibit does not hide the darker elements of Lankton’s work. The following drawing is a painful depiction of the procedure Lankton underwent.

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The bright colors are cheery, but the disjointed structure and overlapping vignettes are frantic. They create the sense of chaos and overwhelming emotion. Perspective is not important here. Table, wall, and floor all merge, reverting the image to two-dimensionality. However, the drawing is not about perspective collapsing. Nor is it a testament to poor technique. It is simply not the point. This drawing is an uncomfortable but honest portrayal of the emotion surrounding a procedure that was vital to Lankton’s identity. It almost feels as if the viewer is invading Lankton’s personal life- a wonderful opportunity provided by this exhibit, yet one that is deeply unnerving.

Lastly, I would like to show you all my favorite part of the exhibit, a mirror. I will not attempt to explain it. I believe it speaks for itself.

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After leaving Participant Inc, I could not stop thinking about Greer Lankton’s life and art. I feel blessed to have stepped into her world for a short time, and seen different sides of her identity through her art. Because of this personal experience, I find her work to be some of my favorite. I hope to see other exhibits that feel as deeply personal as this. Hope you enjoyed as well, and learned something about this incredible artist!

xoxo, Chloe ❤