I’m in New York to see Nukeface, at the Bodega Gallery in New York.
More accurately I’m in New York because it’s a chance to see Zoe Barcza, my daughter.
It’s exciting to get to see her and to see her art in a gallery. These vagabond shoes are longing to stray… so of course I came to NY. Nukeface = paintings by Zoe, a show that has just opened, running until March 8th.
I’m very proud of what I see her doing, as I struggle to say something that sounds even a little objective. But I’ve never seen anybody do what she does. A big part of what I’m feeling might be normal parental disorientation in the presence of change & growth. I feel that I’m watching society change before my eyes, doing things I never expected to see. Sometimes I struggle with that sense of getting older, surrounded by smarter cuter younger people, hoping to keep up with them as I feel my competence slipping. I take comfort when I see something new and brilliant, especially from young artists.
We went to see a film yesterday that’s full of disturbing images & violence, a much cleaner version of the angst & horror I saw Saturday in the Met Wozzeck. Uncut Gems stars Adam Sandler, Judd Hirsch plus a bunch of actors I don’t know in an unrelenting and driven 2 hours 15 minutes, a throbbing score from Daniel Lopatin. I’m seeing connections between the art, the film, and our troubled & troubling world, that offers occasional glimpses of transcendent beauty to the schmucks down in the trenches (that might sound like Wozzeck especially in its WW I updating). I’m not sure that the truth will set you free, but lying and cheating is no way to live. Recent events are such that nowadays I can be uplifted even by getting a glimpse of a moral compass and some sense of right & wrong, whether or not the good actually get rewarded.
Empowerment and agency aren’t always possible. Let’s just put that out there. The world can be a difficult place. The paintings in Nukeface and the way they made me feel is so different from what I saw coming from Peter Mattei on Saturday, the paintings like a series of rocks thrown into the waters not just to disrupt the calm surface but to grab some dignity and power at a time when that seems to be slipping away.
As a group there’s a great deal of nudity, exposed female bodies, vulnerability, and yet it’s right there in your face on each large canvas. I’m trying to unpack what’s going on, sometimes something playful and witty on the surface of something darker.
I’ll start with the pair of complementary paintings in the rear space of the gallery, Linda And Tentacles #1 and #2. The title is mechanically accurate as though the fact of the nude and tentacles could happily co-exist, a blithe little paradox that resembles life.
But it’s a subtle conflict as we notice upon further review that we’re in a kind of dream-space. The sweet expression on the face is unexpected with such an exposed & vulnerable female form. It’s disjointed because of the angularity of the composition, a body floating or falling, perhaps flying as in a vision or nightmare. There is a kind of defiance in the assertion of joy in this image, with silhouetted flowers. The proportions play with our perceptions, the head a bit foreshortened, but no, it’s disproportionately large, making the female nude somewhat childlike by implication.
The cognitive dissonance between the joyful beauty on the one hand and the implicit exploitation of exposure & possible violation on the other suggests questions for me, the complicit male viewer, making me unpack the sexual politics of my time and my self. Is the body exploited, used by the gaze, and can the form take back its power? I feel that’s at least part of what’s going on here. If “Linda” could speak, she might laugh at my confusion, as tangled as tentacles obscuring and grabbing.
I started with those two even though they were the last of the paintings, a stiller resting place after the front part of the gallery, where things are even more fraught and dramatic.
How Alcohol Makes Me Feel reminds me of something Frida Kahlo might have painted, the body having become an elaborate site for drama, as though the body is the set on which an epic opera or an installation were to be enacted. And so it is, come to think of it. Since Kahlo we see the body vital or broken, empowered or crushed. I suppose all nudes since her time are almost footnotes to Kahlo the way any philosophy has been seen as footnotes to Plato.
But I see echoes in the way Zoe has things growing out of these bodies, infections or eruptions like hallucinatory effects.
There are similar eruptions & growths in Bring the Ruckus (shown above). I’m trying to calibrate the eruption of a Venus fly-trap: erupting out of a woman’s ass.
I can’t stop staring into those eyes, trying to appreciate what’s going on inside that head. This is not a helpless exploited female, even if the body is a problematic site and the male gaze is fraught in a world of porn & exploitation.
The headline is really what I think she says to me, arguably what any woman might be asking.
Zoe could have made these more real (as Kahlo did), and then really would have freaked me out completely. I talked to her about this. The things bursting out of the bodies are overlaid very artificially in order to disrupt the surface almost as Brechtian devices, calling attention to themselves as fakery rather than being perfect. If it were too real we’d be into a realm of such powerful magic as to possibly get too dark too scary too unbearable. And that might take us back to Wozzeck and Marie, helpless and defeated.
Indeed, that’s more like what Kahlo showed us, her body like a broken thing on an assembly line, infertile and unable to conceive. But these bodies are alive and empowered, undaunted by the questions and provocations implied in those secondary phenomena.
I’m reminded of certain groups who manage to find a positive affirming outlook. The art of the Third World, the performances of Indigenous artists reconnecting with their culture and language, and especially the creations of women. There is nothing so beautiful as that feeling we experience watching artists finding an answer to oppression, finding a way to say “yes.” Their answer can be our answer.
Meanwhile I was thinking of the song “New York New York”, that I heard so recently. At the New Years celebration we hear that line “if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere”, a place where the best art & music & theatre still can be found. These vagabond shoes are longing to stray…
I’m a proud dad.