Critics’ Picks

Sharon Hayes, Yard (Sign) after Allan Kaprow, 2009, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

New York

“Ecstatic Resistance”

X Initiative
548 W 22nd Street
November 21 - February 1

In the mid-1970s, theorists such as Laura Mulvey and artists including Mary Kelly argued that visual pleasure had to be promptly dismantled. However, in some contemporary art practices informed by feminism—particularly those aligned with queer politics—the concept operates as a liberatory force. Curated by Emily Roysdon, this group exhibition foregrounds works that motivate desire and transgression as strategies to engender radical forms of identification and collective action.

Videos by Jeanine Oleson and Rosa Barba and photographs collaged by A. L. Steiner subvert the age-old alignment of the female body with nature by investing this mythologized relationship with highly contentious issues of national identity. In Yael Bartana’s video, Mary Koszmary, 2007, leftist author and politician Slawomir Sierakowski, speaking in an abandoned Warsaw stadium, calls for the return of Polish Jews to Poland. Within the American context, Sharon Hayes’s Yard (Sign) after Allan Kaprow, 2009, is a field of (what seem to be) stolen front-lawn campaign and protest signs, which assert the demands of their missing speakers. Here, the implied individual body is inextricable from a collectivity that is often uneven and internally contested.

The exhibition poses fearless questions—succinctly, trenchantly, even elegantly—about the limits and possibilities of a politics of representation. It asks: Does art serve as one of the last forms in which political demands can be acknowledged? If so, at what point might we inadvertently put too much pressure on the artwork to do the “impossible” (as Roysdon suggests), to do the work otherwise done in the street and in positions of power?