Alix Lambert

MA Galerie

After a series of works documenting four marriages and divorces, Alix Lambert has moved on to a different social institution. In her recent installation she took on professional sports (basketball and boxing), examining them in terms of their representation of masculine codes of behavior in American society. As in her previous photo series, the artist engages in an intimate and bodily appropriation of social codes. Lambert’s imitation of these rituals arises less from the tradition of performance than from the specular logic of fashion: the artist becomes a “top-model” of her own brand of feminism.

The exhibition opened with a view of the artist’s head, shaven and tattooed like a basketball (a reference to the star-shaped tonsure carved into Duchamp’s hair by Georges de Zayas). Her perfectly round and smooth head, with its oval striations, gave a corporeal density to this symbolically weighted ball, which passes from hand to hand, and circulates between the legs and the bodies of the athletes in a highly sexualized choreography. In the center of the gallery, Lambert cut a ball in two and filled it with concrete, as if fixing the ritual into a symbolic exchange, and surrounded it with a veritable gallery of self-portraits of the artist as basketball coach. Transformed into someone from the business end of the sport and playing with the ball on the edge of the court, Lambert reproduced some of the signs of masculinity to perfection: gray suit, white shirt with striped tie, and an advanced case of baldness. But she also assumed other typically masculine poses and positions in moments of observation, concentration, and relaxation. This was a postfeminist fashion story of faultless rigor, with a whole range of masculine gestures deployed through a ball thrown around at great speed, a series of associations picked up by Glenn O’Brien on the rebound, who, in response to this show wrote: “Bald as a billiard ball. Bald as a cannonball. Bald as an egg. This is how it feels to be a victim of testosterone side-effects. How does it feel to be a man?”

The second part of the show, which dealt with boxing, was less convincing. A videotape—filmed by a video camera mounted on Lambert’s head as she trained as a boxer—of the artist sustaining blows to her face conveyed her physical engagement in the sport but not much else. In the final section of the exhibition, Lambert returned to the pictures of her marriages and divorces which she affixed to the bottoms of decorator pots and pans. Lambert seemed to be attempting to show that basketball and marriage are based on rather similar rituals by bending the socially encoded gender roles each reflects. On the one hand, Lambert transformed the institution of marriage into a veritable athletic performance (four marriages and divorces in six months); on the other, she foregrounded the quasi-marital ritual that bonds men to each other in the practice of sport. Lambert subverts these two identical semiotic systems with an undeniable seduction that led the art critic Glenn O’Brien to say, “Alix Lambert is my kind of guy.”

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.