As concerns arise and intensify around the question of domains of privacy – of what is public versus what is private, the grander status of what constitutes the personal, private, or public looms large in the collective unconscious. Current apprehensions seem to revolve around a newly formed hyperawareness which extends beyond common notions of the Self, or Other. Hauser & Wirth provides playful readings in Personal Private Public, a coalescing of emerging, middle-career, and established artists through an assortment of fragmented texts and bodies, shrouded identities, and glimpses of erotic actions that shake up the order of all things intimate. What seems to be of considerable value and is repeatedly underscored in this exhibition is a keen nose for touchpoints that activate convergences with the aesthetic object through self-conscious processes of viewership.
These deliberations are key indicators of an effort to lead the viewer through new visual and textual interactions whilst serving as reminders of pre-existing structures of looking. Such threads throughout the works might just conjure the coined expression used when referring to sexual encounters, such as, “We kissed and one thing led to another, and another.” Well, one thing definitively does lead to the other, and the next, as is often meant to do so. The sequential or non-sequential ordering of things, not unlike the conflation of narratives, hovers in one’s subconscious here in the same way that one meaning may also lead to another meaning. In a manner of speaking – or looking, Personal Private Public does get kind of personal.
As one lingers in the gallery for a while, the instinctive pleasure one may receive from the act of looking without being seen is at times frustrated by the gallery’s acutely bright lighting, yet seems befitting; such contrast sets the stage for an incongruity that gleans an unusual and inverted form of intimacy. Similarly, a reticence occurs when becoming cognizant in the process of viewing aesthetic objects, that one is also an object. With these thoughts in mind, several works ostensibly focus on illuminating the dynamics intrinsic to the act of looking or being looked at, as in Kohei Yoshiyuki’s shimmering infrared photographs of voyeuristic scenes, “Untitled (From the series The Park)” (1971), and Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s racially and sexually charged portraits of male lovers, “two trade bois” (2018) and “handsome in jeans” (2018).
Other series in the show mine the likes of Laura Mulvey’s feminist film and media theories by assertively counteracting the subjugation of women as visible objects, particularly noticeable in the works of Ivy Handleman and Ingrid Olson. Haldeman’s fresh acrylics on canvas manipulate pastiche and caricature-like affectations derived from comic strips and advertising to help us “give the thumbs up to” her paintings; attitudinal figures of hot dogs and other foodstuffs are suitably painted in emboldened, high-key color and exaggerated flesh tones. In “Full Figure, Head Rests on Back of Hand, Knees Akimbo, Thumb Inside Book” (2019), Handleman’s rubbery figural forms seek subversion as they twist cultural constructs and stereotypes of submissive female sexuality and reconfigure them into brand-new conceptions. A surface-orientation inherent in her painting style remains depthless yet orifices, cracks, and crevices imply what may lie deeper in the subconscious. Upon delineating the linearities between text and image, her canvases spawn altered narratives.
Similarly, Ingrid Olson gauges levels of control or dominance through the give and take of human interaction concerning the female subject and “the gaze.” This is distinctly achieved in her inverted systems of self-portraiture through layers of photographic collage, shifts in figure-ground relationships, and formats that fetishize presentation. Lacanian theories of the “mirror stage” are hinted at, specifically in the artist’s use of mirrors and reflections. By repeating images of herself as a centralized yet fragmented figure as seen in “Given: illuminated from reverse, their roof, behind curtain” (2019), vulnerability is invoked as she qualifies the viewer as either Self or Other. Olson’s visibility is in question as she is always partially hidden. One begets splices of her in these portraits, and in turn, this frustrates the observational process. In so doing, she asserts an omnipresence that ultimately owns an inversion of viewership.
Eroticism is additionally implied through the lens of self-examination and invokes dual notions of attraction and repulsion. Ubiquitous triangles and other elemental forms produce sexual referents in Olson’s compositional equations, such as “Triangular composition (wound and piercing)” (2019). “Mother Drawing” (2019) presents a take on the corseted waist as a formal device to interject confrontational body language. Additional disruptors involve framing and ultra-thick matting that create gemlike aesthetic moments as they emphasize the many ways in which to reframe and re-present the Self. The aforesaid complexities create conditions for a quiet, highly intimate form of communication.
Kinship is thus drawn to studio photographs from Paul MpagiSepuya and Paul McCarthy that echo the aforementioned themes of mirroring and framing and which feature or fragment the subjects. McCarthy’s elegant “Veil” (1970) launches the exhibition and arouses levels of introspection as it dually obscures the shrouded figure and camera, limiting the viewer’s capacity to fully envision the respective photographic environment. Likewise, Sepuya’s archival pigment prints segment objects and human form to striking effect, brilliantly witnessed in “Mirror Study (4R2A0887)” (2016).
Further reinforcing alignments with gender dynamics, power relations, and equalities, viewers get an eyeful from renown predecessor demarcated over time, Mira Schor. Her decades-long focus on feminist iconography has been engrossed in the embodiment of language through the genres of representational and abstract painting. These commingled works conversely establish a play with proportion that speaks, in turn, soft and loud. This can be seen and heard in Schor’s large-scale subversions of the patriarchy, “Strange Fruit” (1988), and “Dicks, or The Impregnation of the Universe” (1988). In their renditions of oversized phalluses, minute ears and auditory canals, the works shown continue to powerfully engender a “gendered” chronicle of intimate experience. These eminent paintings of personal narrative exemplify the fusion of idyllic and intellectualized aesthetics that preempt conversations relevant to creative practices of late, and for this reason, situates them at the crux of the exhibition.
Celia Hempton’s erotically charged paintings additionally touch upon likeminded concepts and approaches to painting albeit to slightly lesser effect in this more reductive method of display chosen. All in all and in the same way that one might tenderly recall one’s first kiss, Personal Public Private presents audiences with an abundance of works that are not only arresting to look at but are also well worth remembering.
Artists in Personal Public Private include Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Ivy Haldeman, Celia Hempton, Tala Madani, Paul McCarthy, B. Ingrid Olson, Mira Schor, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Emily Mae Smith, and Kohei Yoshiyuki. Personal Public Private is on view September 11 – October 26. Images Courtesy Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street, 2019. Photo: Thomas Barratt.