A Review of Defining Form, Art Show on Diversity Showing at The Untitled Space

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court at the end of June created a great sense of urgency among feminists. His retirement left uncertainty for Roe v. Wade in its wake. Trump’s replacement pick, Brett Kavanaugh, a far-right D.C. Circuit Court judge, added to the sense of profound unease about the future of secure reproductive rights here in the United States. As if that weren’t bad enough, the pick was vetted by the Federalist Society, not a friend of feminism by any means. The Supreme Court and the future of reproductive rights loomed spectrally over the media and VIP opening reception at an interesting feminist-centric art show: Defining Form.

Defining Form was the name and the central theme. Indira Cesarine is the curator behind Defining Form, a group show which launched in Manhattan on July 11th. Diversity was the watchword of the evening of the reception and resistance was in the air. Indira reviewed more than 600 pieces, but settled on a few dozen high quality works. More than 50 emerging artists in the show explore issues ranging across the spectrum of gender identity and progressive feminist narratives to activism. According to the Untitled Space FB page, "DEFINING FORM group show investigates progressive themes in sculpture, including contemporary feminism, gender identity and political art, as well as new technologies in digital sculpture, with an emphasis on originality and innovative usage of materials.”

A few curators have done more to balance out gender representation in art shows in New York than Cesarine, consistently focused on giving safe space to the female gaze. Being in the gallery in lower Manhattan is, at least, for the moment respite from the overwhelming phallocentricity of the perpetual male gaze on our mobile screens, in theaters and galleries.

“Form” is the operative word here. Cesarine thinks about “form” in all its complexity, with particular reference to issues of gender identity, which have long been ignored on the contemporary art scene. The works explore two and three-dimensional sculptural forms. Further, plenty of interesting materials – including recycled, repurposed, mixed media -- are highlighted here, such as: metal, stone, clay, wood, glass and textiles. This variety is expressed in abstract and figurative forms and non-conventional colors. There was a lot of vaginal pink (particularly in the excellent works of Arlene Rush and interesting Canadian artist Maia Radanovic) as well as synthetic lighting setups.

Some of the works are particularly effective. Dupuytren’s Contracture by Whitney Vangrin who, she says on Insta, is "a sculpture featuring my dad's hand.” Quite lovely, even touching (and well done). "The Venus and Computer" by artist Jen Dwyer pretty stunning work, fragile, but commanding of any space it inhabits. But one of the best pieces, the one that distills the very core mission of the theme of the show, was "We Should All be Feminists ~ Chimamanda Ngozy Adichie" by British textile artist Jess De Wahls. The image of an outsider in an art gallery skin done in textile.

Another of my favorites: "Invisible Man" by artist Jasmine Murrell comes in vaginal pinks with a negative space on the side suggesting the absence of man. "Fear is Fuel" by artist Kelsey Bennett is plexi-encased in wood and glass, with hairs inserted at the periphery and an Eurypeima Spinicrus tarantula at its dead center. The spider is producing hot pink acrylic egg sacs which frame the arachnoid under unnatural lighting. Is the vagina/birth supposed to be a scary process, or a force of nature, and to whom? In an artist statement, Kelsey writes: “this baby came from Thailand and I am petrified of her, which is why I wanted to work with her — immersion art therapy. Fear is fuel, fear is fuel. Working over her and around her, I started the process by recognizing the ways she made me feel and becoming fascinated with the power she has over me.”

Another of my favorite pieces is the new work by artist @elektrakb titled, "The Way I React to You is Unsettling," a piece of a text message that a former boyfriend sent to her. The piece is directed at that abusive ex. In her artist statement, ElektraKB writes: "after leaving an abusive relationship, I became the victim of oppressive power and control harassment tactics by an ex. I felt completely disempowered, and looked for ways to escape this situation. "A very long letter stitched by hand is included in the piece. Finally, Rebecca Goyette, whose artwork is playful and quite approachable, has about 6 pieces in the show, including one of my favorites: a doll head with flowing blonde locks and makeup atop a bottle of Jack Daniels. ⠀

DEFINING FORM: A Group Show of Sculpture is at 45 Lipsenard Street, New York, NY until August 1. 

 Photographs via Untiled Form, Cover "Bronze Booty Bud Vase" by artist Meegan Barnes