It’s not often that I come away from a show by a woman artist concerned about its representation of women, but that’s how I felt after seeing Lisa Yuskavage’s display of works at David Zwirner in Mayfair.
The promotional material tells me that Lisa, an American artist, has been widely associated with the re-emergence of the figurative in contemporary painting, and that she has developed her own genre of portraiture in which lavish and erotic characters are cast within domestic spaces.
It sounded interesting and, I admit, I had not heard of her before this (forgive my ignorance on that part – though it perhaps does call into question the extent to which Lisa could be associated with any such re-emergence). However, I am always enthusiastic to support women artists so I was pleased to visit the show.
However, this perspective of erotic seemed to be firmly anchored in a preference for portraying women as per the male gaze, or, rather, a sort of male-truckers gaze. Pure objectification. The women here have huge, pendulous breasts, impossibly tiny waists, and they are perpetually sexually available, whether that be naked on the kitchen worktop or crouched on lounge floors.
I found this even more painful than looking at Allen Jones figures. The women here are completely unrealistic, ever-passive and have welcoming smiles eternally plastered across their faces.
I couldn’t work out the extent to which these depictions were ironic. Or whether they were intended to be subversive in any way. The women were always naked, up for sex, and happy to oblige; and on the occasion that men share the same space, they are unattractive figures and in ghostly colours, as if part of the background. To be overlooked.
Maybe these are supposed to be unsettling. And to see such depictions of the passive sexually available female nude from a woman’s hands, I have to admit, is rather unsettling. They are certainly treading a very fine line, and pretty awkwardly too.
I can’t see how such portrayals are progressive. I also found these paintings rather out of step with where women artists and figurative art is these days. Perhaps we’re into the dangerous realms of taste here but, I have to admit, these paintings did not work for me at all.
David Zwirner, London, to July 28, 2017
1 Déjà vu, 2017. Oi on linen.
2 Installation image by me.