‘Interior of the Yelling Clinic’ @ Walter Maciel Gallery

March 9, 2018

The Walter Maciel Gallery exhibited Katherine Sherwood’s Interior of the Yelling Clinic which was an ensemble of her earlier art series’. The most striking of those was Venuses, a collection of inspirations from Manet’s Olympia, but more broadly the Venus motif in Western fine art. The textile weaving of the works on what appeared to be canvas was also intriguingly spotted with the penciled-in names of famed fine artists, mostly represented by Impressionist and Post-Impressionists such as Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, etc. Is this collection then a critique of the male dominance in the fine art world of yesteryear?


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That is the prime query when we see the feminine figures, which are brought into being originally by the male mind, with contorted if not disfigured heads – and certainly not aesthetically beautiful ones. The skulls, which even appear to be media from fMRI brain scans, are skeletal, albeit punctuated with oriental plumage. The blinding of the inevitably beautiful faces, while announcing that these women are not objects for male gratification but indeed even have brains, signifies the blinding of the male gaze.


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Positively speaking, this is not done in a sardonic fashion.  Base antipathy is easy to be unleashed at the reality that Fine Art has historically been male-dominated, ergo all our artistic pretensions are based on a masculine subjectivity. The works are not scorning history per se, but offering a counterpoint, to emphasize that these objects, strung alongside still-life works such as vases of flowers and delicate fruits, are people too.


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But this is not to say there is absolutely no degree of vehemence. The very nature of dialectically adopting historical artworks is serving a critical purpose which may not be necessary. Should not, in other words, art be done for its purest sake and thusly aimed at something higher than being adversarial to historical conditions? This is what I find most sincere about the Women French Impressionists exhibited in Denver; with brushstrokes “liberated” they shared their own creative subjectivity, finding no need be confrontational with their male peers; despite the earnest anguish some of them had in their potential being paralyzed because of their social conditions.


The aim, then, of challenging the representation of women as human rather than simpleton still-life objects, is laudable, but the attempt could have been better. Perhaps more risible and cheeky; to paint a woman absurdly as a piece of fruit, or a flower in a vase, for example. This accomplishes the intention without necessarily desecrating the works of men who are entitled to view the female form as beautiful.


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