[Nate examines how vanity pervades pop culture, and reviews a group show that attempts to combat vanity through modesty. –the artblog editors]
In the last decade, pop culture has included some moments of embarrassment that came to epitomize specific events (e.g. Janet Jackson’s controversial performance incident at Super Bowl XXXVIII). Her public humiliation, known as a “nip slip” (or its more polite euphemism, the “wardrobe malfunction”) is the takeoff point for the group show Nip Slips at Current Space in Baltimore. In examining the issues raised by a moment of vanity and its consequences, the show asks the question: What happens when we are both humble and vain at the same time?
Self-conscious artwork and growth in unlikely circumstances
Raising issues of emotional conflict and posturing, Brooklyn artist Kim Westfall’s “Wintergreen,” with its rounded edges juxtaposed against the crude, conflicting brushstrokes of Christmas-tree green, jumps out at viewers as soon as they enter the gallery. In this large work of paper covered in frantic, almost childlike brushstrokes of light green paint, the imperfect shape and seasonal implications of the title conjure up holiday get-togethers with family and friends in all of their imperfect authenticity: the inevitable apprehension of gift-giving, the veritable embarrassment of a botched family dinner, and countless other examples that now characterize a holiday spent with family.
Margaret Daviet, a student at Maryland Institute College of Art, questions the nature of vanity through crude combinations of texture and color in her piece “On My Way, Coming Alone”. Viewers are drawn to the large golden oval in the center of the small-framed collage on paper, brought to life by two large, human-like eyes. While one eye weeps, the other points downward, preoccupied with the choppy, cerulean blue puddle of tears it hovers over. The contrast of gold–a symbol of wealth and beauty–with the disproportionate eyes lends credence to the notion of weakness that is inherent in human beings: a natural flaw that lurks beneath the seemingly perfect façade of vanity. The reality of the figure’s awkward features and tears offsets the gold’s radiance, constructing a creature that we catch off-guard, struggling to reach its destination.
Conversely, Flannery Silva perpetuates the idea of growth in unlikely circumstances with “My Morning, Black Eye’d Shadow”. The modest pane of stained glass suspended from the gallery ceiling depicts four squares of barbed wire, fashioned in the shape of a window. Two flowers intertwine themselves within the confines of the wire, bringing color, life, and spontaneity to the cold, jagged structure. It is in this contrast of bright and neutral colors that viewers see reflected the common, dated tropes of anti-war sentiment that are now tinged with cliché. Through this imagery, Silva may be questioning the consequences of a political iteration of the “nip slip”.
Nip Slips is a show that offers much in the way of reflection. While some of the implications present may seem contrived or overdone, there is redeeming value in works such as “On My Way, Coming Alone”. The fact that like-minded artists curated the show explains the selection of artworks according to themes of humility and vanity. Overall, I found the show to be enjoyable, and will keep an eye on the artists mentioned above, as well as the others featured in the show: Connor Creagan, Allie Linn, and Alan Resnick.