Romina Bassu, Intervallo (Interval), 2017, acrylic on canvas, 39 3/8 x 31 1/2".

Romina Bassu, Intervallo (Interval), 2017, acrylic on canvas, 39 3/8 x 31 1/2".

Romina Bassu

Romina Bassu, Intervallo (Interval), 2017, acrylic on canvas, 39 3/8 x 31 1/2".

In “Male Gaze,” Romina Bassu explored a certain model of femininity whose genesis can be traced back to the idea of the mindless, submissive, “perfect” housewife of the 1950s. Inspired by vintage photos, films, and TV ads she has collected for years, the Italian artist borrows atmospheres and poses from that era to look beneath its pervasive and subtly abusive propaganda for a world built around the demands of dominant male culture and the consumer society. While the female subjects of Bassu’s paintings are defined by the artifice of their socially prescribed roles, she alters their appearance to intensify the grotesque element of their unnatural perfection.

The nine paintings in this show, with their rapid, fresh brushwork, are animated by a sense of absurdity and sarcasm in which the mordant irony of the artist’s own critical gaze counters the tyrannical male gaze. The focus is on the body, hands, faces: Gestures are forced, postures are excessively euphoric or enhanced by a seductive charge. But the eyes are often painted over with slanting brushstrokes: opaque holes dug into nothingness. Lacking the identifying feature of the eye, the face is depersonalized and takes on the fixity of a mask. The female gaze of these figures is lost behind fiction and alienation.

Bassu’s paintings exude a sickening chromatic atmosphere; their pastel colors—pink, green, light blue—are as sugary as macaroons, complementing the claustrophobia of the nondescript interiors in which these women are trapped. The artist is not afraid to venture into the darkness that lies beneath the slick surface of lives devoted to perfection, no matter how sad or sordid it might be. A compendium of neuroses emerges from those illusory domestic delights: In Intervallo (Interval; all works 2017), a faceless woman lies on her bed, crushed perhaps by depression or anorexia, but with little pink feather slippers on her feet that call attention to her ornamental role. The worn and reddened fingers that thread a needle in Anancastica (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), or hold a lipstick in Liturgia (Liturgy), reveal an exhausting, dysfunctional automatism. In the diptych Attacca (Attack), the bloodstained hands of an impeccably coiffed woman bear the evidence of a violent event; perhaps stricken by madness after a homicide, she laughs hysterically alongside an obnoxious little pink poodle that bares its teeth: this deranged trophy wife’s companion in solitude. Cinematographic references abound in these close-up portraits, frozen like film stills between romance, emotional drama, and satirical thriller. But where are we? In an Alfred Hitchcock remake of The Stepford Wives (1975)? Or in a Revolutionary Road (2008) sequel shot by David Lynch?

In the eight black-and-white watercolors of the series “Rhapsody,” the figures appear to fluctuate between the intolerable acceptance of norms and their transgression: The naked bodies in some of the pieces, worn out from the effort of holding up appearances or devastated by domestic abuse, are juxtaposed with the frivolous euphoria of burlesque or the erotic poses of Bettie Page. Bassu pulls away the curtain of representation and observes the psychological and physical corrosion that lies behind the facade of that artificial female world, revealing its fissures and consequences while denouncing its latent violence.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.