New York

Maureen Connor

Alternative Museum / P.P.O.W.

With this survey of Maureen Connor’s sculpture comes a shift in the discussion generated by artists such as Janine Antoni, Patti Martori, and Rachel Whiteread, all of whom can be said to have used Minimalist strategies and esthetics to feminist ends. In “Discreet Objects,” curated by Andrew Perchuk at the Alternative Museum, it became apparent that though Connor may have begun her career in dialogue with Minimalist sculpture, she was always more concerned with examining cultural paradigms of femininity than with formal issues.

The show included works from the ’70s in one gallery and more recent works in another, a split that marked the differences between these groups of works in a striking, almost frightening manner. Like the change in Linda Hamilton’s physique between The Terminator, 1984, and Terminator 2: .Judgment Day, 1991 (from nicely normal to neurotically fit), the change in Connor’s work reflects the shift in our conception of the ideal body over the past two decades. During the ’70s, Connor worked with malleable materials—dresses, linen, and reeds—to create fulsome, garment-derived forms that long predate the ubiquitous clothing-oriented art of the last few seasons. Starring in the late ’80s, things took a dramatic turn. Made of metal, rubber, glass, and nylon, the recent sculptures are tensile, stretched rack-thin over eccentric armatures.

The various meanings of consumption—from weak lungs to obsession to the acquisition of commodities or the ingestion of food—underlie Connor’s art. Consumption, as in tuberculosis, is evoked by the huge hankylike “Linens,” a series from 1980 based on hysterically intricate instructions for folding table napkins taken from 19th-century Godey’s Ladies Books. Connor’s larger-than-life bottle racks, 1988–89, conceptually cash in on Marcel Duchamp’s famous recontextualization of an everyday object into an expensive masterpiece. Finally, consumption as dietary intake informs the nylon body-suits stretched over metal frames, such as Thinner Than You, 1990, in which a woman’s competitiveness is perversely turned into a suicidal length of rope.

Taste Two, 1992, is a bathroom scale on which the digital reading of pounds is replaced by a video of the artist gobbling down plates of food. With each new offering comes a moment’s hesitation. Presumably, she’s tallying what effect eating now will have on tomorrow’s reading. The weight on her mind is nothing more than pounds. The harsh message of Connor’s recent work is that women’s thoughts are literally consumed by eating. It’s an uneasy conjunction of a woman’s mind and body, and perhaps not entirely the one that Connor intended. Unlike the earlier, more provocative transformations of linens, bustles, and dresses, these latest works tend to be so blunt they stop short of critique. Given the strong conceptual core of Connor’s work at its most accomplished, the later work would have benefited from the attention to formal issues that is evident in her pieces from the ’70s.

The object orientation of this survey prohibited inclusion of any of Connor’s video installations, such as those exhibited in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. One such piece, however, was on view at P.P.O.W during Connor’s museum show. Dancing Lessons, 1995, comprises a big, blond modular unit housing dual speakers and video monitors that intercut dance sequences from Hollywood movies with scenes of boys’ and girls’ initiation to the rituals of ballroom dancing. Smoldering scenes from films such as The King and I, 1956, and Dirty Dancing, 1987, keep disrupting class. Explicit and sexual where the dance class is rigid and repressed, these images give the deadpan video of the preteen dance class a witty edge, reminding us not only of the repression of ’50s America but that its myths still inform our sexual mores.

Ingrid Schaffner