New York

Nancy Davidson

Richard Anderson Fine Arts

The first thing about Nancy Davidson’s new sculptures is that they are large—not in the way something architectural is large, despite their bigger-than-life scale, but more the way a person can be. Even the relatively smaller pieces, which Davidson calls “ Girl Guides,” 1994–95, have the overfed look of chubby teenagers. If you were to think of abstract Boteros, you’d be on the right track. And as with Botero, the scent of kitsch is in the air. These rotund, anthropomorphic masses, suspended from the ceiling or resting on beanbag-chair “pedestals,” are less threatening than comically seductive. Excess seems to equal a promise of comfort, one that is quite literally inflated: these colorful sculptures are nothing but oversized balloons, empty but for gas under pressure, and dolled up in the most deliciously absurd flounces, frills, and garters. These adornments not only embellish but also give form to the balloons, segmenting these head-bodies into swelling lobes, all bust and buttocks.

In her comments on the work, Davidson lays claim to an interest in Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque, with its temporary reversal of hierarchical relationships. Though these vast but dainty monsters might elicit hilarity from even the most straitlaced viewer, if she needs a textual support, Davidson could, with equal justice, have referenced the notion of femininity as masquerade proposed by Joan Rivière and later taken up by Jacques Lacan and his followers. Rivière was referring to women who, having taken on “masculine” attributes, assume a pose of womanliness in order to reclaim masculine desire and thereby reassure themselves of their “femininity.” But the most obvious example of feminine masquerade as a compensation for masculinity would nor be a woman at all but a drag queen, and while Davidson refers to her sculptures as female, they look suspiciously like female impersonators. What, otherwise, are we to make of those impressively scaled nozzles hanging from the grotesquely voluptuous latex curves of both Spin Too and Neither Bigugly nor Smallnice (both 1995)? They’re the means of inflating the literal balloons that double as metaphorical bodies, but while they ride atop the “Girl Guides” as innocently as hair ornaments, these protuberances dangle with phallic awkwardness from the hyperfeminine undersides of the larger works (except for Musette, 1994, in which the nozzle is concealed by a black widow’s veil).

Along with the balloon sculptures, Davidson exhibited a portfolio of photographs that isolate details of Musette, parodying soft porn with a stealth that is as well-calculated as the blatancy of the sculpture. Perhaps least successful are two beadnecklace strings of bowling balls which, closer in spirit to Claes Oldenburg’s magnification than to Botero’s inflation, seem a bit too formally deadpan for this giddy context.

Barry Schwabsky