Art

California Dreaming

Time and Again With Artist Mira Schor

by

It’s 2019, and Lyles and King Gallery has mounted an exhibition of passionate and quirky 1970s work by Mira Schor. So, just to split the difference, we’re resurfacing a 1993 review of her work.

Considering that Schor (born 1950) is not only an accomplished visual artist but also the editor of a collection of writings by the erudite abstract expressionist painter Jack Tworkov and author of a number of insightful books on art theory and feminist art — such as the evocatively titled A Decade of Negative Thinking — we were surprised that we found only a single entry in the Village Voice card catalog under “Schor, Mira.”

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t more coverage of this multivalent artist in the +/- 300,000 pages of the Voice archives — the catalog is spotty and only covers about half of the paper’s publishing history, so we imagine more Schor coverage will come to light as we begin to digitize the archives.

First we’ll take a look at the work currently on view at Lyles and King — powerfully composed gouache paintings from the early 1970s. Schor’s intense colors and bold designs perfectly complement her borderline-surreal narratives. In her Bear Triptych, a nude woman embraces/grapples with a brown bear — which seems to have lumbered directly off California’s state flag — their coupling amid the palm trees leaving them bloodied but alive. The palette of sandy ochers and smoggy pinks evokes Southern California’s adulterated paradise, where Schor, in her early twenties, had traveled from New York to study in a program at CalArts taught by feminist stalwarts Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. Schor’s brushwork in these roughly 2-by-2-and-a-half-foot paintings on paper is precise but lithe, conjuring variegated flora and animated, carnal fauna.

Along with other scenes of SoCal’s fraught Eden, we also get a series of fetishistic images of stylish high heels reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s early advertising work for the I. Miller shoe company, in the 1950s. Schor, however, makes her shoes into characters; in one particularly striking variation, a purple ankle and calf rise from a bright-yellow pump poised in the middle of a road — fashion mixed with the speeding ennui of white-line fever.

Below we bring you the Elizabeth Hess review of a Schor exhibition at the Horodner Romley Gallery, in Soho, 1993. As always on these yellowed pages, there are serendipitous collisions of reporting, criticism, opinion, graphics, and ads weaving through the slipstreams of time. The image for Hess’s article is not by Schor but by Lutz Bacher, whose show was also reviewed that week and who was another artist dealing with the body’s myriad representations — in this case, knockoffs of the cheesecake artist Alberto Vargas. Once again we learn from the Voice archives that it’s good to know your history — whether you want to repeat it or escape it.

Gallery of the Dolls
By Elizabeth Hess
October 19, 1993

Mira Schor’s paintings, also on the subject of female sexuality, are real paintings. Unlike Bacher (Koons, Kostabi, etc.), who had her paintings fabricated, Schor’s paint is genuinely fleshy and emotive. In a handsome installation, five single canvases face two longer works, each comprising numerous panels that snake around a corner wall with phallic superiority. Of course, the very idea of phallic superiority is a joke in any Schor-related event: the coeditor of Meaning has been theorizing and painting sexual politics for more than a decade. This show includes many of her wittiest works.

Schor’s artworks are filled with punctuation marks, letters, and words that articulate a body language. The writer-painter implicitly makes an argument for the necessary relationship between text and image. A small portrait of a targetlike female breast is bracketed in quotation marks; in another piece a host of twinkling apostrophes floats through a dark sky, looking like rain. Maybe glistening sperm.

“Area of denial,” a term used during the Persian Gulf War to describe bombs that explode above ground and remove all the oxygen from the air below, is written on 16 panels of one of the works. The words stretch across the frames as if the speaker had an uncontrollable stutter. Schor links the reality of war to the metaphorical battle to reinvent, or simply rescue, the female body. She paints a prissy portrait of a vaginal opening that looks like a semicolon, indicating that the language to accomplish this maneuver is not yet available. In her most humorous canvas, Schor flushes an “ism” down a toilet, suggesting the need for altogether new theoretical ways of thinking.

 

Archive Highlights