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A&E

Some Fine Women’ at Vast Space Projects is a robust top-grade show

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Angela Kallus’ work at Some Fine Women.
Photo: Checko Salgado
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four and a half stars

Some Fine Women Through August 24, Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Vast Space Projects, 730 W. Sunset Road, 323-240-2888, vastspaceprojects.com.

The title, Some Fine Women, understates. “Many fine women” is a more accurate description of a robust multimedia show with a whopping 60-plus works by 36 artists—from renowned cultural magpie Alexis Smith to emerging artist of wit Alisha Kerlin. Some pieces, like Rachel Lachowicz’s blood-red lipstick-covered canvas, extend the identity and gender issues of late 20th-century feminism, while several younger Third Wave feminists emphasize the materials of their art over explicit political messages.

Circles abound: in righteous bas relief, in fine-spun drawings, in sequined flags, in rubbery vessels and currency wheels. The association between circles and female anatomy is as old as art history, but these abstract works have less to do with reframing the female body than with a fascination with form. Nancy Riegelman’s graphite-on-gesso mandala is a procedural vortex moving obsessively from oval to circle via faint, seductive lines, while Angela Kallus’ hard-edged targets, with their vibrating concentric circles, deliver a clean graphic punch. The hard edge plays out differently in Jaime Scholnick’s abstract reliefs, with their circular depressions. Scholnick’s candy-colored xylophone has curves instead of corners—a sly allusion to women and the women’s beauty product packing materials from which the pieces are made.

Alexis Smith's work in <em>Some Fine Women.</em>

Alexis Smith's work in Some Fine Women.

Women artists, the show insists, interpret the world differently than men, whether through form, shape, color or material. The position is less accusative—men-hating feminists are so last-century—than matter-of-fact. But the message, that culturally dominant notions of beauty and behavior are the legacy of male desire, comes across explicitly in some works, or, in the case of Edith Beaucage, with a kind of fiendish joy. Although her paintings recall misogynistic portraits by Picasso and de Kooning (painterly canvases thick with contempt), Beaucage’s buxom-nosed women are light-hearted. She deconstructs the canon of female beauty with a disarming naiveté.

Third Wave feminism also genders the still-life paintings. Lily Simonson cleverly alludes to the pears in Cezanne’s iconic works with a couple of memorable uterine-like sea creatures, the aptly named “Polymasthia Invaginata.” The high-art combo of chiaroscuro and glazing playfully contrasts with the fleshy and displaced objects of female sexuality. Mary Warner’s paintings—masterful works of waning sunflowers—take on the canon in a different way, by turning clichéd symbols of female vulnerability into botanical aliens. Warner’s florals verge on abstraction, the details functioning like theatrical microcosms where the fervid drama of creativity takes place.

Striking drawings made by emerging and nationally recognized artists pack the “small space” and office, while a short ride away, the 2,000-square-foot satellite space projects an urban, edgy feel, with videos, an installation by Patricia Burns, sculptures by Barbara McCarren and an Alexis Smith mural, featuring a humongous red “A.” A slim 150 years ago, that scarlet letter branded women for “adultery.” Now it stands for a top-grade show with “many fine women” and the variety of feminisms to match.

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