Our dear friend Jo has been taking full advantage of NYC’s arts scene of late, with a recent visit to the MoMA and a performance collaboration by the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’ Karen O and production designer K.K. Barrett. Check out her thoughts below and the similarities she found between the two:
the opening scene in Karen O’s Stop the Virgens reminded me of Willem de Kooning’s Excavation (1950), which I had seen a few days before as part of a major retrospective on the artist at MoMA. the “virgens” spilled onto the disturbing landscape with limbs intertwined, yelping and growling and moaning like they were being birthed from the primordial ooze. all that chaotic closeness of female bodies one on top of the other writhing in a gross, sexy heap made me feel the vastness of the feminine experience. beautiful and disgusting birth, sexuality, strength, murderous violence, vulnerability, hope….it was all in there. similarly, and despite the fact that de Kooning acquired a reputation as a righteous misogynist, I felt moved by his lady-like nightmare orgies and portraits of teeth-baring women. they look like beefy and bandana-ed Sylvester Stallones who could give the T&A pinup girls of the time a run for their money. they seem to contain within their frames the sexual and the grotesque as easily as the virtuous and sublime. the gorgeous pastels in de Kooning’s Woman, I is a perfect example. maybe I like de Kooning’s snarling gladiator women and Karen O’s wraith-like “virgens” because I’m bored by the oversimplified women getting shoved down my throat via pop culture. (Carey Mulligan how can you be so passive and doe-eyed in Drive? are you just going to let Ryan Gosling save you like a little lamb? do something, dummy!) it’s incredible to me how ubiquitously portrayals of women in media simplify us to one of these elements – the saint, the damsel, the slut, the bitch, the girl next door, the vengeful/violent psycho – and how rarely art successfully (or even attempts) to convey a holistic picture of how these difficult complexities coexist within us. maybe I see myself in these odd totems holding the capacity for both incredible creation and devastating destruction – again, it’s all in there.
at any rate, I’m looking for more unconventional portrayals of women in art. let me know if you have any suggestions, dear internet readers!