New York

Kathe Burkhart

Feature Inc.

Like Sherrie Levine, Kathe Burkhart makes art that belongs to the discourse of the copy, as mediated by a disaffected feminist perspective. Unlike Levine, she uses sources that are not particularly august. The “Liz Taylor Series,” an ongoing project since 1983, presents images of the archetypal star, culled from film and publicity stills. Burkhart gravitates to those scenes depicting Liz in either wigged-out ecstasy or gut-wrenching humiliation. Using an opaque projector, the artist traces the lineaments of the original pictures on an often grand scale, then fills them in with lurid acrylic colors. Bits of contact paper, gold composition leaf, plastic, linoleum, and fake fur are often collaged into the compositions, heightening their already garishly aggressive effect. Each painting is emblazoned with an expletive or insult—e.g., “Brown Noser,” “Hole,” or “Fag Hag.” As Burkhart explains in the statement that accompanies the exhibit, she’s opposed to sublimation; she wants to use “the language of angry resistance, the iconography of the Loud-Mouthed Bitch.”

Starfucker (Cleopatra), 1989, is a characteristically blunt picture, but it reads on several levels: the Egyptian temptress, the Taylor/Burton romance, the ridiculously failed epic, the gorgeous costumes. Liz-as-Cleopatra is on her knees, caught between subjugation and seduction, desire and deceit. She extends her hand in a gesture that simultaneously begs for mercy, offers a caress, and threatens to scratch out our eyes. Idealistically, the “Liz Taylor Series” posits a world in which art is as dangerous as life.

Burkhart’s work is about femininity as mimesis, or the representation of representations, as her citation of Luce Irigaray in her statment underscores: “. . . Woman’s special form of neurosis would be to ‘mimic’ a work of art: to be a bad (copy of a) work of art. Her neurosis would be recognized as a counterfeit or parody of an artistic process.” Burkhart is a kind of female female impersonator, and the title of this show—“Kathe Burkhart by Elizabeth Taylor”—indicates that the series is as much about the artist as it is about the delirious cult of Liz. Extrapolating from this autobiographical identification via feminine masquerade, she reaches the strategic overstatement that the series is about “all women.” This is an altogether uncomfortable assertion given Burkhart’s penchant for hysterical iconography, but perhaps apropos in light of her obsession with socially constructed “female trouble.” Her Liz Taylor becomes the crystallization of patriarchal social diseases, as well as an assault on those very constructions.

David Rimanelli