Critics’ Picks

Betsy Odom, Birkenstock, 2018, black cork, leather, buckles, paint, rabbits' feet, 10 x 4 x 3".


Betsy Odom

DePaul Art Museum
935 W Fullerton
January 17–March 31

Like the queer communities that came before her, Betsy Odom speaks in code. Folded handkerchiefs allude to Hal Fischer’s “Gay Semiotics,” 1977. Birkenstock, 2018, is a rendition in drag of the shoe closely associated with lesbian culture. The open-toed sandal evokes summer—a loose, sweaty season between the fixed points of propagation and death, a time for slumber parties, summer camp, and self-actualization, all before heading back to the intellectual locker rooms of high school. There’s also the subtlety of Bandaids, 2016, a set of four strips of leather arranged like pasties that suggest a vexed—or healed—relationship with one’s queer body, nipples and all. Sure, there’s a great deal of stereotyping in this small show, but the stereotypes are so pervasive that Odom uses them to crack inside jokes with the folks she’s speaking to. This produces a kind of transgressive joy that resists capitalist values: Many of Odom’s works reference productive, useful commodities (baseball helmets, cleats, flotation vests, shorts) but possess no utilitarian value themselves. In toying with the idea of function, Odom highlights the usefulness of beauty, aesthetics, and a well-timed punch line—what many of us would call real means of survival.