Los Angeles

Jeanne Dunning

Roy Boyd

Jeanne Dunning’s glossy Cibachrome prints, either laminated or mounted on Plexiglas (all works 1990), are as seductive as just-licked lips. Slick facades are very much in keeping with the slippery agenda of this Chicago-based artist. Dunning manipulates viewer assumptions, using them as a springboard from which to launch investigations into a complex of interrelated questions and themes, including: the nature of portraiture; the mechanisms of photographic imagining; the portrayal of gender; the sexual allure of hair and hairiness; the relative determination of beauty, deformity; and what’s considered pretty, revealing, erotic, repellent, or natural.

Untitled With Tongue, the first of several works in which a woman is made to look simultaneously unremarkable and freakishly funny, is a head shot of an expressionless young woman with what looks like an oversized plastic tongue hanging out of her mouth (it’s actually a piece of red pepper). While the woman looks blandly normal, the tongue is garish and lurid, and viewers feel torn between conflicting messages. In Untitled With Beard, a murky, dimly shot photo, the viewer must look closely to discern what appears to be a five o’clock shadow further darkening a woman’s visage. The bearded woman has always been a strange and troubling image, simultaneously archetypal, ambisexual, deitylike, and reminiscent of seedy carnival sideshows.

While both Tongue and Beard are displayed in conventional square formats, another picture of a woman’s face, Untitled With Bulge is presented in a framed oval resembling a convex mirror. This woman either has her “tongue in cheek,” literalizing a colloquialism for teasing or being ironic, or she has something else in her mouth that’s causing a pronounced facial bulge. Is the bump in her cheek a joke? A growth? Something to vie with her face for the viewer’s attention? Something to gawk at? An embarrassment better politely ignored? A device to force viewers to contemplate how they evaluate women, faces, other people in general? All of the above?

Dunning’s quirky earnestness triggers interesting intellectual machinations. Untitled Body is a photo of the back of a female figure. The model’s cascading hip-length blonde hair and all it calls to mind about feminine stereotypes, beauty, etc. figures prominently in the work, interfacing disturbingly with the model’s black-clad body, which is lumpy, misshapen, and speaks plainly about the ravages of old age and disfigurement.

In Sample, a yellowish stalk of canned asparagus lying half-immersed in its juice, looks both idealized and wormlike. Visceral stewed tomatoes dripping with juice appear in six separate works. In three photos the tomatoes fill the frame almost entirely, and in two others they are held in a hand extended away from the viewer, evoking multiple associations including the offering of forbidden fruit. Dunning’s vision is a fertile, mysterious mixture of weirdness, focused obsession, and restraint. She fools our eyes, pulls our legs, and moves us to reexamine the prejudices her work slyly evokes.

Amy Gerstler