Daily Art Moment: Vaginal Davis

The first work shows a pair of eyes and the suggestion of a face drawn over the copy of a gallery show advertisement. The entire background is shaded in smudged and streaky purple. Two elongated eyes rendered in gray line are positioned in the top third of the rectangular work overlapping some of the copy. The eye on the left is crooked, its outer edge pointed down. Both eyes have dark blue pupils. The eyes are surrounded in light blue shading. Single dark lines depict eyebrows. Other black or gray lines generally outline the head. The copy says: “NATHALIE DUPASQUIER, Meteorites & Constructions II, (appearing above the eyes) Sept 8-Oct 8 201, Opening: Thu, Sept 8, 7-9pm, {the eyes are drawn over this copy obscuring the final digit of the year) Exile, Kurfurstenstrasse 19. 10785, Berlin,, +49 30 702 33061, (appears at the bottom of the work)”. The second photo is of a drawing of a face on a blue ground. Simple black line drawing depicts eyes and eyebrows. There is yellow shading above eyes, green dots for pupils and red thin lips on a light skinned face with a few black lines suggesting hair. The face appears streaky and smudged, as if water has been applied over the media. The blue background is also streaked and blotchy, and appears water stained. Two vertical, parallel lines are at left of the head, running top to bottom. White blotches appear next to the face at top right and under the face’s right eye.The work in the third photo is in the shape of a thick cross, as if the artist split open the sides of the box to lay flat. Wide swathes of pink, dark purple, blue and turquoise are applied in broad, loose, brushstrokes on all four edges. The rectangle formed in the center of the cross contains a face with its skin depicted in mottled white. The white color appears to have been dabbed on roughly and unevenly around the facial features leaving the closed eyes, nose and small, red mouth the brown color of brown cardboard.

“Vaginal Davis describes herself as a ‘doyenne of intersexed outsider art,’ working across, around, and between artistic disciplines: she is a performance artist, painter, curator, composer, writer, and musician. She is an originator of the homo-core punk movement and a genderqueer art-music icon. Interviewed by author Cyrus Grace Dunham, Davis said, ‘I don’t fit into mainstream society, but I also don’t really fit into ‘alternative culture,’ either. I was always too gay for the punks and too punk for the gays. I am a societal threat.’

The three intimately scaled portraits in the Museum’s collection at first glance seem quiet. But looking again, they loudly reject normative conventions. Davis has devised a new genre of ‘makeup paintings’ consisting of perfume, hairspray, nail polish, and various other beauty products associated with traditional femininity. Calling the works incantations, she coaxes a feminine/femme spirit to appear on the surface of repurposed business cards, matchbooks, and postcards. Potion-making relates strongly to her mother who made potions and elixirs for health and for luck. I love that these works defy the usual ways that curators think and write about materials and process.

Davis also told Dunham, ‘You can’t change institutions from the inside, as they always wind up changing you.’ This statement has me reflecting even further on the appropriation that white dominant cultural organizations so often exercise. It is an important call to resist this pull and create more space.”

Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Vaginal Davis (American, born 1969). The Waning Sex, Shining Hour, Only Yesterday, 2017. Watercolor pencil, nail varnish, lip stain, eye shadow, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, coconut oil, cocoa butter, perfume, hairspray, Anacin Fast Pain Relief Tablets, Excedrin Migraine & Headache Tablets, Lydia E. Pinkham Women’s Compound and Health Tonic. Gift of Amy Adams, 2018.87.1-3

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