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In 1961, after being prevented from bringing Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer into the U.S., Dorothy Iannone sued to force the government to cease categorizing the novel as obscene. Now in her mid-seventies, the Berlin-based artist seems to have lost none of her radicalism. Born in 1933, in Boston, she has been woefully under-recognized in this country, in part because her reputation was overshadowed by that of her longtime lover, the late German artist Dieter Roth. She considered him her muse; he called her “Lioness,” the title of this small, yet thoroughly absorbing survey of her early work, made between 1965 and 1978. It’s her first solo show in a U.S. museum. Through paintings, drawings, sculptural wood cutouts, and a video, Iannone creates a sort of erotic autobiography, depicting herself and Roth—often engaged in sex—as flat, stylized figures reminiscent of ancient Egyptian wall paintings. The couple faces the viewer, surrounded by three decorative, abstract circular shapes in I Begin to Feel Free, an acrylic painting with collaged elements from 1970. Wearing a black and red necklace, and with a sort of bindi dot on his E.T.-like face, the male lover is nude, and excited. She is topless, her nipples decorated with what look like pendants, the painting’s title inscribed across her bare stomach. Theirs is a spiritual as well as physical union, one feels. The pleasures of this important show are certainly spiritual and physical, but are also decorative and intellectually demanding, comedic and seriously political.
‘The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women’
The premise of this wonderfully various yet tightly organized show can easily be inferred from its title. It seeks to make an end-run on the traditional male gaze, which objectifies women, by presenting artworks in which women are both artist and subject. The result ranges across most contemporary genres—sculpture, photography, video, painting, and installation—finding echoes and dissonances in work by some 38 highly regarded artists. A young, forlorn-looking girl with long brown hair and bangs, in an untitled color photograph by Cindy Sherman from 1982, hangs next to a dreamy and similarly melancholic black-and-white image of a woman, May Prinsep (Head of St. John), by Julia Margaret Cameron from 1866. Sarah Lucas’s 1999 sculpture Cigarette Tits II—a black bra encasing large, round breasts made of cigarette butts and hung on the back of an old wooden school chair—faces Lisa Yuskavage’s Heart (1996–97), a painting in red and pink tones of a kneeling, naked young woman with prominent, upturned breasts, fingering herself in ecstasy. Under female scrutiny, the women here are no less sexual than when portrayed by men, but they do seem to represent a broader emotional spectrum. Berenice Abbott’s Mme. Theodore van Rysselberghe is wary in her photo; the bride in Shirin Neshat’s C-print Pari is resigned; Liz Taylor, in Kathe Burkhart’s painting Tough Titty, expresses her defiance. It’s a congress of attitudes, one that could easily merit being assembled in a museum exhibition. Cheim & Reid, 547 W 25th, 212-242-7737. Through September 19
Leona Christie: ‘Parts and Labor’
“I am interested in depicting post-contemporary outer space,” writes Leona Christie in an artist statement. And as the ink and gouache drawings, etchings, and short animated film in this beguiling solo show attest, hers is a world well worth visiting. It’s a lighthearted and mysterious place where the law of gravity does not apply. Christie does not go in for the graffiti-inspired naïve scrawling that dominates downtown galleries. She favors a clear, liquid line to draw female figures wrestling, posing, preening, and generally cavorting among far-out forms rendered with delicate shading and a wild imagination. The Daughters of Quiet Minds #3 captures a nude girl kneeling before and holding the foot of a woman who is embraced from behind by an ethereal goddess. Above them, in shades of gray and blue, bulbous and puckered bacterial forms float, swell into existence like bubbles, and seem to replicate. Though Christie’s biomorphic spheroids, floral balloons, calyxes, serpentine stems, wormholes, and floating nude humanoids have been influenced by such varied sources as early science-fiction film, utopian pneumatic architecture, and surrealism, her vision is utterly original. Redflagg, 638 W 28th, 207-522-1194. Through September 12