Critics’ Picks

Mary Walling Blackburn, “David Meet Paul (David Hamilton Ballet Images Reconfigured),” 2013-15, print; pastel, walnut oil, tape, cardboard, 11 x 17".

San Antonio

Mary Walling Blackburn

Sala Diaz
517 Stieren Street
January 16–February 22, 2015

During the reading of Mary Walling Blackburn’s pro-choice children’s book released in fall 2014 at e-flux (Sister Apple, Sister Pig), a child in the audience shouted, “This is b-o-r-n-g [sic]: boring!” It’s true: The book was not really written for children. It is a provocation for adults, concept performing form in what the artist has referred to as a kind of drag. So it is as well for the titular work in Walling Blackburn’s current show, “♂ Anti-Fertility Garden,” described in its précis as a planted installation of vegetables that cause sterility in men. But this is not a garden in the yard; it’s only a single myrtle tree standing beside a hot tub, where an elegant soap painting by Sophy Naess displays embedded chunks of neem and papaya. The threat is not the function but the fact that we’re enabled to imagine that function at all.

The simplicity of the show’s ostensive frame (antidote to the female burden of birth control, response to repressive Texas legislature) is bait for what’s inside: conceptual research uncompromising in its difficulty. This selection of Walling Blackburn’s genital works includes the series “David Meet Paul (David Hamilton Ballet Images Reconfigured),” 2012–15, a set of altered images originally by the famous connoisseur of naked female children; He Helga a Detail from Merch Table, 2013, a museum-style appliqué of Andrew Wyeth’s lesser-known, homoerotic portraiture; the self-explanatorily-titled drawing series “Speculative Reconstructions of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Lost Ivory Dildo,” 2011–15; and Parvus Somnus (Cheap Sleep) a Site-Specific Installation, 2015, a fetus-size casket covered in chocolate frosting beneath an abortion-commemorating date painting that lashes On Kawara. Walling Blackburn is an artist who takes aim at the art world’s unassailable darlings—the people, their impunity, and the fetish of the unitary concept itself.