Bea Arthur... Nude?
Exploring the psychological side of representation, the exhibition The Figure and Dr Freud, which is on view at Haunch of Venison in New York through August 22, offers a compelling selection of portraiture and figurative works in a variety of media by 28 established artists. Spanning nearly a century of art production, works in the show range from Pablo Picasso’s small, Cubist rendering of a pigeon on canvas from 1912 to Brian Alfred’s larger-than-life portrait of the singer M.I.A., which is fresh from the artist’s studio.
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Another recent painting, and the first artwork on view in the show, is David Salle’s With All Due Respect Sir, We Need Modesty Blaise, a large painting in six parts that shows a woman in three states of undress, juxtaposed with three Buddhist busts and inlaid interpretations of Cezanne and De Chirico still-lives. This magical mix of imagery is overlaid with the words “Cine Club” and the painted outline of a sleeping woman—making it seem as though one is looking at the outtakes of a film or the fleeting moments of a dream.
A precursor to Mr. Salle’s jump-cut visual style is the Pop artist James Rosenquist, who has a masterful work in the show. His 1966 multipanel painting Playmate as Fine Art shows a large-breasted female surrounded by pickles, ice cream, and a wire trash basket. The painting, which was formerly in Playboy’s art collection, mocks the fact that the magazine often used pregnant women in their photo shoots so that the breasts would be bigger—a technique that became obsolete with the widespread availability of implants.
Rosenquist’s canvas is displayed in a room filled with paintings and drawings of the female form—including John Currin’s droll depiction of Bea Arthur Nude, Willem de Kooning’s expressionistic vision of Two Women, and Alberto Giacometti’s sketchy, double portrait of his wife and muse Annette—surrounding George Segal’s sculpture Walking Man, which captures a typical middle-age guy in a raincoat in a darkly finished bronze. Ironically, this lone male figure appears to just be passing through the gallery.
Other full-figures haunt Haunch of Venison’s large, sprawling exhibition space, too. Tony Matelli’s Sleep Walker, a realistic young woman—complete with tattoos, pimples, bug-bites, and bruises—shuffles toward the light of a window in her petite, polka-dot panties, while Patricia Piccinini’s fully clothed gal gets a loving head-hug from an imaginary, nearly hairless creature that supposedly just jumped free from a leather, zippered pod. The impact throws the woman’s body back, where she remains forever frozen.
The work of several photographers, including Nobuyoshi Araki, Diane Arbus, David Levinthal, and Robert Mapplethorpe round out the show. Araki has two psychologically disturbing works—one that juxtaposes a standing nude female, who’s smoking a cigarette, with a little girl entering a door on a Tokyo street, and the other one of a heroin-chic model, bound in ropes and gold chains, while her left nipple is being pulled by a suction cup. Meanwhile, Robert Mapplethorpe’s infamous Z Portfolio, which includes 13 photographs of a black man in provocative poses, objectifies the male body.
Taken as a whole, The Figure and Dr Freud, presents an incredible journey through the unconscious minds of the artists and subjects on display. After viewing it, you may be ready for the couch.