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Monday, July 1, 2013

Skin Game Redux

Portraits of identity and cultural expectations

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Portrait Society Gallery (The Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St., suite 526) is a mini-museum of marvels under the guidance of Debra Brehmer, who stretches the portrait theme beyond, and then some, succeeding where others fail. Her hope is that visitors thoroughly enjoy her mini-museum, and give careful consideration to purchasing top-quality artworks.  

Now through July 14 at the Portrait Society, find terrific talent (lots of it local) linked with a common theme—identity and how cultural expectations shape us—in “The Personal is Political: Martha Wilson and MKE.” For example, at age 24, I wore a Jackie-O hairpiece, false eyelashes and Liz Taylor kohl-rimmed eyes. At the same age, New York City artist and feminist, Martha Wilson, was transforming herself into an aging woman. You can see the results mirrored in her 1974 video, Deformation. Nearby is an enormous black-and-white photo of baggy eyed, jowly Martha—the real Martha. Feminists of the ’60s and ’70s, raged, confronted, condemned and shamefully fought amongst themselves over which wave of feminists was the genuine article. Fortunately, Wilson (she’d fit right in on “Saturday Night Live”) has the jolly good sense to lighten up, so let’s hear it for Martha as Marge Simpson (or Mona Lisa), sly under a towering wig of blue. Beneath her various disguises thrums a genuine brain. A larger survey of her work runs through August 11 at Inova, 2155 N. Prospect Ave.

Local artist Niki Johnson’s poke at Catholic Church policies, via a papal portrait of Benedict—of “Eggs” fame—is yesterday’s running joke, one I ignored despite the media hype. But positioned center stage at PSG is Johnson’s 2013 Vision in White (Michelle Obama). This one is about our fascination with body parts, to wit, Michelle Obama’s disembodied, stole-draped arms. Sculpted of smoky-hued glass, the arms extend as if to embrace both fans and detractors. I’m wondering though, if I’d feel the same if Johnson had sculpted Nancy Reagan’s ankles or Hillary Clinton’s rear, and, face it, Sarah Palin is a moving target. Behind Michelle, a horizontal row of white porcelain shoes, each open-toed, hint at the vulnerability of females (and males) who fritter their lives away being “sexy.”