New York

“Public Vision”

Another group show spanning the sultry summer weeks, this selection of work by 12 women artists was organized by three of its members—Gretchen Bender, Nancy Dwyer, and Cindy Sherman. Their aim was to present a range of work that, though using the different media of painting, photography, and sculpture, shared a general approach and a public concern. They also wished (as expressed in a written statement) to group artists who, though having exhibited in a range of contexts, had never been placed together before. I take that to mean, placed together as women.

I find the title somewhat stronger than much of the work itself, which is frequently hesitant and (in certain cases) inappropriate to the theme. “Public Vision” states a focus on external rather than private concerns—on interests that are collective and broad in scope, rather than individual or personal in reference. It suggests, as a corollary, a view of the “creating” subject less as an originating presence than as a social product and, in this manner, as implicated in the large field of forces it addresses. However, the title also seems to imply a critical play on the notion of “vision” as a sentimental or intuitive attribute which has been accorded (unjustly) to women. All the artists take their cues from the media—from the imagery, rhetorical devices, and psychological effects of advertising, film, and TV; and all share an approach that is analytic rather than “expressive,” aiming to peruse, present and, through presentation, question the processes of that public sphere. To call this attitude “uncompromising,” as do the organizers, is excessive: “direct” or “committed” would do. And to overly attribute it to women seems both suspect and counterproductive (Remember Mary Boone?: “It’s the men now who are emotional and intuitive. The females are more structured.” New York magazine, April 19, 1982). Nevertheless, it is an approach to which women, as longstanding victims of a shackling dominant ideology, have been pointedly receptive of late.

The show suffers from the practice, common to many group shows, of presenting only one or in some cases two small works by individual artists. This practice impedes the kind of in-depth investigation the organizers intend, just as it muffles small-scale, subtle, or purposefully equivocal art, which gets lost amidst more assertive statements. This is the case with Diane Buckler’s two darkling photographs, as with Jennifer Bolande’s minute image of a stage curtain, suggesting the interface between seclusion and revelation, “private” and “public,” which requires further reinforcement for clarity. Similarly, some work seems ill-chosen or wholely in opposite. This might be a function of dealing with acquaintances, who share a common way of working though not always a common focus. Or it might be a function of obvious problems in organization (“Me? Give new work for a summer group show? Opening on a Friday night in July?”) For example, Louise Lawler’s montages of rephotographed works by Sherrie Levine, Jenny Holzer, Andy Warhol, and others deal with the relevant themes of quotation, source, and context, but reinject them within a limited artistic sphere. Similarly, Laurie Simmons’ photographs of underwater swimmers eerily traversing an abandoned pool seem private rather than public in vision. I mean this not as a qualitative judgment, but as comment that the inclusion of these and other works dilutes, and thereby diminishes. the impact of the encompassing theme.

Otherwise, “Public Vision” presents an ample field of plays with appropriation (Sherrie Levine), framing and forms of representation (Diane Shea, Gretchen Bender, Peggy Yunque), and sexual imagery and stereotype (Ellen Carey and Peggy Yunque) dealing with the presentation, and devices of presentation, of a socially constituted sphere. Among its strongest images is one by Nancy Dwyer which shows a culturally stereotyped black boy, his arms inexplicably upraised, depicted according to conventional graphic norms. Barbara Kruger’s verbo-visual “text,” You Delight in the Loss of Others, frames a male address, pointing to broad-scale processes of power and domination and to their obverse—subordination and loss. And in one of her most recent photographs Cindy Sherman shows herself, now dressed in a very down-home, private way, her eyes blankly averted as she encounters the public sphere. An image rife with equivocations, it might provide the emblem for the show.

Kate Linker