We asked three of our critics to each select a local artist they thought deserving of much greater attention. Below, their expert choices.
Heide Hatry: Making Pigs Nervous
The naked, bloody woman lying in Central Park with an American flag made from pigskin did not turn out to be a case of murder, but instead—as the NYPD discovered on September 11, 2007—another one of Heide Hatry’s confrontational performances. Barely avoiding expulsion back to her native Germany for the act (she didn’t have a green card), Hatry has since established herself as an imaginative provocateur, whose body-based works, lately on feminist themes, never leave you comfortable.
Daughter of a Bavarian pig farmer, a gymnast for 12 years, and an antiquarian bookseller for 17, the lithe 44-year-old artist mixes, in both performances and sculpture, raw sexuality, cool intellectualism, and plenty of porcine offal. “I loved to cut pigs apart,” Hatry says of her childhood. “My father [thought] I would be a butcher.” For her art, she has carved up a hog while wearing a white dinner dress, wallpapered a room with pigskin, and, most recently, used that same material, together with the porkers’ eyes, to assemble puppet-like heads of women who appear, as Hatry says, “terrifyingly alive.” Bearing bruised, slightly distorted features, the portraits (photographed before decomposition) survey “the commonplace suffering, even victimization,” that is a part “of almost every woman’s history.”
Like Hannah Wilke or Carolee Schnee-mann, Hatry often uses her body to satirize stereotypes. For a piece titled (in rough translation) A Fruitless Struggle, Hatry hung from a thin bar in her Williamsburg loft while trying to unclothe herself and apply makeup, succeeding only in bloodying her hands. But Hatry’s egg-laying videos may be her most startling performances. In one, a businesswoman (Hatry) suddenly pauses on the street, touches her belly, lifts her dress, slowly squeezes an egg from her vagina, then smashes it against the camera—an absurdist dissent against expectations for titillation and motherhood. Though Hatry denies having a strident position—”More of a Karl Kraus sort of thing: I put the facts in front of the audience, and they speak for themselves”—her unconventional work carries unsettling thrills. ROBERT SHUSTER
William Lamson: Controlled Serendipity
“I don’t want to work with real guns,” says William Lamson during a phone interview from his residency at the MacDowell Colony. “I want to turn the machismo thing on its head—to shoot a balloon, there’s something so nothing about that.”
Indeed, the 31-year-old multidisciplinary artist—based in Brooklyn—visits a holocaust upon flocks of balloons in his Actions videos (2007–08). In 1/33, he jumps on a teeterboard, sending nine of these innocent playthings bounding upward, then deftly shoots them with pellet guns, their shadows dissipating across a white wall. Other victims are skewered with darts, lacerated by Exacto blades, and deflated under crushing boards. Revenge of a sort occurs in 9/33, when Lamson rolls into the scene like 24′s Jack Bauer and, grunting and squirming, keeps a single balloon aloft with shots from low-velocity pistols. Ammo depleted, the artist finally lies as flat as Manet’s dead toreador, while the balloon descends to lightly brush his forehead.
Lamson is equally skilled with a bow, using box cutters mounted on arrows to sever the shoestrings of sneakers dangling above Brooklyn intersections. Ignoring passing garbage trucks and rubbernecking drivers, he puts his new acquisitions on his own feet and tosses the pair he was wearing back up over the power lines. The vaguely socialistic impulse of this 15-minute video, Hunt and Gather, was expanded upon in Lamson’s recent show at Pierogi Gallery, “Work and Trade.” The artist exchanged abstract drawings he created using a ceiling fan, string, and a marker for whatever viewers wanted to give in return. The final exhibit comprised 285 offerings, including artwork, dolls, a line of cocaine, and even a stranger’s apartment key. Lamson notes that the last item “is a weird and personal thing, but not really,” since the address wasn’t included.
In the shadow of some illustrious forebears—think of David Hammons’s flambéed fur coat, Robert Watts’s swaying tree-branch drawings, and Fischli and Weiss’s cinema of mad science—Lamson’s thoughtful mayhem is dead-on. R.C. BAKER
Carrie Moyer: Cross-Wired Feminism
Painting is a neurotically self-conscious medium—it’s always looking over its shoulder, responding to earlier eras and earlier ideas. Carrie Moyer puts that self-consciousness at the center of her work. But where mash-ups of different periods and styles have become popular with post-postmodern painters (and often end up looking like conceptual train wrecks), her canvases are cool, seamless—almost alchemical.
Slipping between abstract and representational, the raw canvases are built up with strata of translucent and opaque color, positive and negative shapes, and solids and silhouettes that reference different historical periods: ancient fertility figures with bulging hips; vases with breasts circling their perimeters; murky blobs that recall the paintings of biomorphic surrealism. But there’s an unsettling subtext here, a suggestion of the way women have served as talismanic muse-objects in past art instead of intelligent innovators.
“When I started on this body of work,” Moyer says, “the iconic imagery of ’70s feminist art hovered around the edges of my studio. I was looking for forms that were nearly recognizable and that generated the preliterate force of the Venus of Willendorf.” Over time, the Brooklyn-based artist accumulated an image bank via online sources, used-book stores, and museums. “More recently, I find myself transfixed by the Oceanic, Inuit, and pre-Columbian objects similar to those collected by André Breton and the surrealists.”
It helps to know some of these references and their legacy. The surrealists, after all, took their cues from Freud, who was interested in the strata of the human mind. To complicate matters, surrealism (and Freud) has often been seen as anathema to feminism—which has ridden its own historical roller coaster. By juxtaposing the ancient, modern, and contemporary, Moyer rips them out of their old contexts and circulates them in a new one—”cross-wiring,” she calls it. But, like really good art, the paintings work on enough levels that you don’t have to know anything about Joseph Campbell or Redstockings to appreciate the ingenious compositions or dazzling surface effects. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Selections from Heide Hatry’s series of heads are on view through July 31 at Elga Wimmer, 526 West 26th Street, 212-206-0006