The Hole is proud to present a solo show of paintings by LA-based artist Vanessa Prager, her second at the gallery, opening this Saturday night. “Voyeur” in February, 2016 introduced New York audiences to her crusty-thick oil painted faces, and the installation of walls and peep holes emphasized a body of work that was about women being looked at clandestinely. This February she releases a new body of work that is erotic and empowered, women displaying themselves overtly, exposing their naked body and fooling around in the outdoors.
“In the pink”; our male director was not familiar with the phrase and confused it with “Two in the pink, one in the stink.” An honest mistake as “in the pink” meaning hale and hearty or in fine fettle was certainly more popular in the previous century: perhaps also an apt mistake as the nudes portrayed in our show have more than just a whiff of the boudoir about them, and the artist deliberately makes sure they are not just beautiful but have an underlying “stink” to them.
In fourteen new paintings, Prager backs away from the face to paint bodies and scenes, solo or group, mostly outdoor, all nude. A series of works from the very tiny “Nasty” up to a midsize canvas “Candace at Night” show a female nude sitter with legs spread. Other works depict duos or ménage à trois, scaling up to the giant triptych in the main gallery “Party of Eight”; which looks to be quite a party.
This bacchanal of female nudes betrays ambiguous consent: in the entry gallery, the main wall features “Asking For It” a painting of four lined up butts, plumply protruding from a thicket of marks to invite the gaze. The likelihood of four ladies of their own volition forming such a configuration seems unlikely, leading the viewer to surmise this arrangement is from pornography. Other seemingly bucolic scenes have a hint of the strip club; “Party of Eight” and “Double Edged” appear to show figures wearing strappy leather harnesses, and the bright red nipples and bare vaginas look performatively porny as well.
Inspired by the #MeToo movement and other hopeful signs of the declining patriarchy, Prager wants to take back image production of women's bodies from exploitative masculinist culture. Sick of covering up, Prager releases nude bodies in this show for the first time, no Voyeur-ism and no peep holes; the creator and the viewer are right up together countenancing the female body.
The artist chose to paint nude women exposing themselves as a way to add a female painter’s take on the parade of hundreds of years of mostly men painting female nudes. In choosing to depict women pressed under the male gaze of porn she has complicated matters. This female painter is then exposing the exposers, so to speak; rendering their creations as a matter of female choice, depicting both the beauty and the hideousness of the oppressive erotic image made by the male gaze.
Peaches and pastel purples, the crimson, lavender or apricot couched in veridian are beautiful springtime groupings of colors, but especially in “Au Natural” or “Double Edged” the thick strokes of paint obliterate the features, lump up the bodies, their smeared red grins look ghoulish or their faces exploded by a grenade. In the strongest works, Prager’s nudes turn horrible, more akin to a lurid Kirchner or depraved Schiele than a lively and charming Cecily Brown or vulnerable and intimate Tracey Emin nude. In her largest painting Prager spreads dollops of summer petals around the perimeter but the bodies underneath remain bovine and bestial humpers.
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