SEXISH at Birch Contemporary (129 Tecumseth), to January 23. 416-365-3003. Rating: NNNN
The provocative group show Sexish features seven artists who turn the female gaze on signifiers of femininity and eroticism. Their paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures range in tone from charming and humorous to dark and disturbing.
Cathy Daley endows her stylish black pastel drawings with exuberant energy that gives agency to her dancer-like figures depicted from the waist down in tights and bouncing skirts. Embroidered on vintage tablecloths and doilies, Orly Cogan‘s female nudes amusingly engage in mundane or naughty activities. Dainty flowers, legs, a ponytail or a ballerina’s foot emerge from bulbous mounds of clay that conjure prehistoric goddesses in Julie Moon‘s porcelain sculptures.
Orly Cogan’s Busy Barbie.
Clothing is the focus for Dara Vandor and Maryanne Casasanta. Vandor draws hyper-real tossed-aside lingerie and silk drapery in black ink on canvas. Her sexy/gross Dirty Underwear, a meticulously rendered black lace garment with white smears on the crotch, is one for the Amy Schumer age. Casasanta, on the other hand, makes highly abstract photographs of her clothed body – her lap in blue pants or crossed legs in woolly tights – whose minimalism undercuts the usual associations with the female form.
We enter more sinister territory in the paintings of Ilona Szalay and Janet Werner. Working loosely in slightly murky tones, Werner gives a nightmarish frisson to Dancer, a torso in a bra with a shrunken head in the form of a cat mask, and Abby And Snow, a young woman with a smudged, possibly bruised face who stands before a shirtless man wearing a leering snowman mask.
Szalay’s two black-and-white paintings use spare, fast brushwork to evoke ambiguous scenes from old photos or dreams. The artist, who often paints on glass but here shows two canvases done with oils and resin, has a Goya-esque ability to place figures in emotionally loaded situations that dramatize power relations.
Whether working in a lighter or more ominous vein, all these women have a refreshing point of view that stands in sharp contrast to the kind of artistic representation of women made by and for men.