U-M exhibit questions stereotypes
Gender’s new slipperiness forms the basis for “Re-Imaging Gender,” an intriguing and good-looking show hung in the hallways of Lane Hall at the University of Michigan.
Curated for the 20th anniversary of the Institute for Research on Women & Gender by Mark Nielsen, this group exhibition features 15 graduate students in fine-art programs from around the Midwest.
Right at the outset, sit yourself down at the table near the front door and watch Amy Cannestra’s odd, absorbing video with the puckish title, “I Have Intimacy Issues.”
For the first minute or so, the University of Wisconsin-Madison grad student gives us nothing but a rough, lunar-looking surface with low-key spooky music in the background. After this blank interval (surprisingly un-boring, by the way), a woman in dull-red high heels — shot just from the shins down — strides onto the surface, now revealed to be something like a rough concrete floor.
The red shoes strike various poses, all of which suggest power and authority. I won’t spoil what comes next, but it’s simultaneously disturbing and amusing, and well worth the anticipatory build-up.
Taking first place in this juried competition was Cranbrook Academy of Art student Mishka Colombo, for his sharply colored oil-on-canvas painting, “Hide and Seek.”
The androgynous subject with the feminine-looking eyebrows and a baseball cap covers his or her eyes with one hand, in a gesture of pained avoidance or retreat.
Color here is used with great restraint, and as a result, rules all.
One fingernail is sharp green, a visual punch that connects with a lighter version of the same hue in the background at far left. A sharp-blue earring is a darker version of the sky. The skin is pink and feverish. It’s a magnetic portrait that — like much of the work in this show — leaves us more doubtful than certain.
Second place went to Ohio State’s Julie Rae Powers for “Homage,” her epic portrait of a woman coal miner.
Blown up like some grand historical painting, this digital photograph is another exercise in the sparing use of lush color. All is dark or smeared with coal dust except for the miner’s vivid cheeks, her lips, and the bold red rim of the lamp on her helmet.
The artist’s statement notes that the picture pays respect to a disappearing way of life, and, in its choice of a woman, touches on “questions of the supporting roles of females in a predominantly masculine industry and culture.”
Whatever the academic interpretation, “Homage” is a deeply absorbing portrait, one that’s hard to walk away from.
Happily, “Re-Imaging Gender” is a show with any number of exclamation points. If you go, don’t miss C.J. McCarrick’s photographic grid, “Fertility Idols,” and Heather Whittlesey’s mini-installation, “Paid Parental Leave,” with its itsy-bitsy baby handcuffed to Barbie’s pathetic, outstretched arms.
Through June 26
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday
Lane Hall Gallery
University of Michigan
204 S. State St., Ann Arbor