The dudes get their due in a feminist show laced with sweetener.
Artist-curator Marci Rae McDade created “Girl on Guy” at Columbia College’s A+D Gallery as a feminist art exhibition that isn’t afraid to adore “masculine energy.”
When McDade entered a show of feminist artists herself a few years back, she found that none of the other work had an emotional connection to men. “This is what I always see in a group show of all women artists,” she says.
The “White Boy” series of thread drawings that McDade exhibited, in contrast, “were portraits of men [she has] had crushes on.”
The 24 women artists in “Girl on Guy” likewise swoon proudly and sincerely. “Not like Tracey Emin,” says McDade of the respected British artist, whose work is aggressive and passionate but “not very nice.” McDade thinks we’re ready for a little more sincerity. “People are getting tired of apathy and irony,” she says.
Anchoring “Girl on Guy” is work by Sylvia Sleigh, an important figure in contemporary art who became known in the 1970s for her figurative paintings of men reclining or bathing. Sleigh flirted with traditional nude portrait settings found in art history by swapping the gender. Sleigh, now in her nineties, continues to paint men.
Mexico City conceptual artist Betsabeé Romero is represented here with one of her bas-reliefs made from a car tire. Romero carves floral designs in the rubber and then embellishes the surface with chewed bubble gum.
New York–based Orly Cogan, known for her embroidered erotica on vintage linens, created a new piece for “Girl on Guy.”
Chicago photographer Melanie Schiff offers Sleeping Boy #1, from her series of slumbering dudes.Another local photographer, Stephanie Brooks, shows a 1998 series of images featuring guys who drive their mothers’ station wagons. McDade also invited Chicago’s own Cynthia Plaster Caster, who specializes in making casts of rock stars’ penises, to participate. (The Mekons’ Jon Langford and the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra rise to the occasion here.) “I have a deep admiration for her work,” McDade says. “It’s easy to write it off as kitschy starfucker, but it is very sincere and fun.” She also says she felt a real connection to Cynthia’s work when she was creating her “White Boys” series, which McDade admits is tame by comparison.
For the exhibition, McDade designed a complete living room tableau in the front of the gallery, complete with a rug and love seat where viewers can lounge and read various materials, including the catalog. It will be the setting for an event on Saturday 29 featuring book artist Sally Alatalo, who will read from one of her Ranch House Press publications. Alatalo created a book-length poem out of romance-novel titles and has reinterpreted masculine text—stuff you might find in a motorcycle repair guide, for instance—as verse.
McDade grew up in Gary, Indiana, moved to Chicago in 1988 to study film and video at Columbia College, and received an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute this year. She recently quit her job as manager of SAIC’s media center and moved to Portland to be the artist-in-residence in the fiber-arts department at Oregon College of Art and Craft. We spoke by telephone before she returned to install the show.
“There just is not enough work about how [women artists] love or admire or lust after men,” says McDade, who took her research seriously, traveling to four different exhibitions, including “Global Feminisms” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. To be a feminist and an artist seemed to come with a bunch of unspoken restrictions, she discovered. “There are a lot of angry women out there,” she says.
It appears that McDade will not be one of them. “I want to see what will happen if you give yourself over to love,” says McDade, who’s endured her share of woes, including a tough divorce. “I have been so much happier, and my life as an artist has been so much more fulfilling, since I made that shift in my own brain.”
And McDade is sharing the love: “This show is a love letter to men,” she says proudly.
“Girl on Guy: The Object of my Desire” opens Thurs 27, 5- 8pm, at A+D Gallery. Alatalo reads from her work Sat 29 at 1pm and McDade will talk at 3pm.