Four Female Artists vs. the Male Gaze at Garis & Hahn in New York

Apr 13, 2016 8:42PM

Gender disparity is inextricable from art history. Traditionally, men are the painters; women (often nude) are their subjects. Over the years, artists have taken up a number of strategies to combat the oppression of the male gaze. Some, like Guerrilla Girls, have campaigned for museums to display more work from female artists, while others, like Cindy Sherman, have used their own bodies to explore the psychological pains of a sexist culture.

Beyond the Gaze: Women Painting Women,” a new group show at Garis & Hahn in New York, brings together four emerging female artists, each depicting the female nude in her own way. Their canvases celebrate the female body without objectifying it, showing that it is possible to portray naked women without playing into misogynistic visual tropes.

Sarah Awad’s “Reclining Woman” triptych shows three nude women lying down in similar poses, head in arms, feet curled together. Yet the series renders each female in brilliant blues, yellows, and soft pinks—combating the repetition of the figure. The outpouring of color threatens to dissipate the female body within the frame; it can often take a moment of looking before the rapid brushstrokes coalesce into a female figure.

Such fracturing of the body is picked up in Sarah Faux’s Structure/Stricture (2015), a work composed of fragmented triangles with glimpses of a body. In Faux’s Untitled (2014), a single leg juts out from an otherwise abstract composition. As opposed to Awad’s ecstatic paintings, Faux’s breakdowns of the body create an unsettling sensation of anxiety.

Jay Miriam’s richly textured canvases show women in a style reminiscent of art brut and Jean Dubuffet. While works like Woman and Headless Parrot (2015) border on the grotesque, they also capture a raw sense of eroticism. Tatiana Berg’s works, in contrast, make use of a flat, cartoonish style. Here, the female body almost seems to bend and twist as if hewn from rubber. Despite similarities in subject, the four artists thus find unique means of using paint to explore the complexities of female identity in contemporary culture.

—A. Wagner

Beyond the Gaze: Women Painting Women” is on view at Garis & Hahn, New York, Mar. 11–Apr. 17, 2016.

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