Los Angeles

Mia Westerlund Roosen

It was difficult to read Mia Westerlund Roosen’s 18-ton earth sculpture Madam Mao, 1995, as anything but giant genitalia. In previous works, Roosen used undulating concrete to suggest human forms, but, in Madam Mao modest innuendo finally surrendered to outright literalism. The huge dirt vagina dominated a large gallery space and filled the room with its fertile odor, the mound rising from the floor into a tapered peak. Running down the center was a small canyon, lined with sinuous slabs of pink, curved concrete. This labial, fluted furrow greeted viewers at eye level, offering them an unobstructed view into the thirty-footlong sculpture.

Like much indoor earthwork, this piece presented a massive amount of soil that was tidy and well-behaved. Madam Mao was carefully groomed. Her neat perimeter was perfectly swept. No rogue smudges sullied the clean white room. She was moist and the mound held the impressions of frequent raking, though here and there a random seedling sprouted, perhaps underscoring the Madam’s unbridled fertility. Though the perplexing title suggested multileveled complexities, this grandiose sculpture foreclosed on interpretation. The daunting peat beaver left little to the imagination. Other interpretations were arbitrary, like the title itself, which seemed to have been tacked on in order to diffuse the outright pussiness of the pile. The Byzantine maze of references could be negotiated (via Michael Heizer, Ana Mendieta, Andy Warhol, a cast of thousands), but, in the end, the presentation of the 18- ton vulva triumphed over all.

Within Roosen’s track record of “landscape as metaphor for the body” work, Madam Mao reads as an honest mistake. In the last few years, Roosen’s work has become increasingly overt with sexual references. She has moved from the abstract to the clitoral, usually reserving a dose of ambiguity: though her work has suggested certain genders, it has rarely described them. Works like Bethlehem Slouch, 1993, shown at the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York, have evoked feminine forms, without actually depicting them. In 1993, the pink-streaked concrete slabs peaking out from a trench in a field only hinted at a Mother Earth theme. Giant earth cunts are great, but when they start to apologize they become suspect. Madame was neither purely abstract nor succinctly feminist. A wishy-washy pussy sculpture is an unfortunate embarrassment. Without wildgirl love and triumphant celebration, the polite vagina becomes just another sniveling wallflower.

Lisa Anne Auerbach