Friday, May 14, 2010

I dig: Ghada Amer

(Ghada Amer The Black Bang 2010. Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas. 72 x 64" (182.9 x 162.6 cm). CR# GA.21006. Image courtesy Cheim & Read.)

If this is your first up-close encounter w/ Ghada Amer's ecstatically colored and embroidered canvases, you may well have a few blush-worthy moments when you stare through the psychedelically patterned aura in her new exhibition, "Color Misbehavior", on now at Cheim & Read. For instance, the magnetic The Black Bang (2010), with its Mandalic sequences of white and yellow thread on a solid black canvas, like a false-colored nebula shot by the Hubble Space Telescope, that one is sure to draw you in, deep w/in its repeating layers of embroidery until the figures emerge and — oops! it's a girl in platform heels throwing a naughty gesture, repeated ad infinitum, because once you see her, you cannot help but see the many, many twins emerging from the noise like a landscape in haze. That right there is the hinge of this suite of beautiful new works, and it should intrigue those well-versed in Amer's oeuvre just as much as newcomers.

(Ghada Amer The Black Bang 2010, detail shot.)

Besides the three 2009 canvases in the smaller gallery adjacent to the front desk, Amer's subject matter (mined prodigiously from Hustler and Club) doesn't proclaim itself w/ the immediacy of her earlier works. The women are as sensual and sexual as ever, replete w/ spread legs and intimate positions and autoeroticism, each lovingly, carefully rendered in Amer's signature broken-line stitching. Though here entire meters of loose string stick to and pool on the canvases like bright tendrils of some poisonous tropical plant, half-obscuring the figures. In one instance, D As In Drips (2010), the bolder painted blond, like a pinup wallpaper, is echoed by another woman ensnared in multicolored string. This is further complicated by the vertically streaming acrylic drips. In another, Sunset in Isfahan - RFGA (2010) — hint: the acronym in the title refers to the recurring collaboration b/w Amer and Reza Farkhondeh — the two reclining women float amidst squiggles of embroidery, like just-showered hair, and a burst of petal-shaped peaches and yellows. Farkhondeh's background has as much immediacy and interplay as the foreground action. He rendered a blurred pool as backdrop to Paradise Girls - RFGA (2010), like the rippling reflection of a tree canopy in water, beneath a symphony of spread legs patterned over it.

(Ghada Amer Paradise Girls - RFGA 2010. Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas. 66 x 77" (167.6 x 195.6 cm). CR# GA.21070. Image courtesy Cheim & Read.)

This artistic collaboration has existed for over a decade, Farkhondeh's classical organic painted backdrops under Amer's respectively spare or chaotic needlework. Amer was born in Cairo, Egypt and has been showing in New York for nearly 20 years, though my first close encounter w/ the artist in person was just last year, at Film Forum's premiere of Chiara Clemente's documentary Our City Dreams, based on five NY-based women artists (the other four were Nancy Spero, Marina Abramovic, Kiki Smith and Swoon). Farkhondeh was born in Iran and began showing in New York around the same time, and their face-to-face residency at Pace Prints last year was an absolute artistic knockout.

It would be facile to say that the "painterly" canvases in this new exhibition are all due to Farkhondeh's "interventions" — especially with his melodious, Matisse-like flora from the Pace Prints show fresh in my head. Amer pushes the line in experimentation, like the aforementioned D As In Drips and the streaking, rosy smudges of One Night In London (2010). It's clear that the canvas was oriented one way for the acrylic paint to pool and run off the edges, Morris Louis style, then once dry the canvas was flipped on its side and hung. This manifests a dynamic visual gridwork between the horizontal drips and the vertical embroidery. Or for immediate impact, check her series of works on paper in the back gallery, which are ingeniously hung adjacent to the RFGA canvases. These include several embroideries on paper, dismissing the matted strings and enveloping acrylics for the simple, direct statement of spiky, dotted figures. If you are unable to sift the explicit imagery from Amer's busier canvases, these works drain the excess so you can see ONLY the subjects — like E-Mae and E-Nicole (both 2009). Her formidable figurative technique is further exemplified by mixed embroideries and watercolors and, wondrously, by the several watercolor-only works. Like in Lisa and Britney (2009), Amer exerts incredible control over the medium, filling the paper with the aqueous bleed-through mottling characteristic of watercolor whilst maintaining opaque, Fauvist outlines of the two women, exploring their erogenous zones. I was reminded of her collaborative printmaking with Farkhondeh from the Pace Prints show, like Rose Me Not (2008), but that sharply-outlined figuration was conceived in woodcut, avoiding the particularly demanding requirements of watercolor technique. I don't quite know how she achieved these divergent results, the diluted softness typical of the medium w/ the monotype-like precision, but I think it is best left for her to enact and us to enjoy.

(Ghada Amer Lisa and Britney 2009. Watercolor on paper. 11 3/4 x 9" (29.8 x 22.9 cm). CR# GA.19858. Image courtesy Cheim & Read.

Amer's abstraction is more prevalent than ever, furthering the ostensibly Abstract Expressionist style from her 2006 exhibition at Gagosian. Like the starburst pattern of The Black Bang, seen from across the gallery, and like the drenched shimmer of The Waterfall (2010). Though she embroidered this large piece on raw canvas, the overall effect gleams like a rainbow refracted through, well, a waterfall, as a spectrum of threads cascades over the repeating three badass women, like a nouveau Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. And with a bit of a stretch, I was oddly reminded, of all things, of David Mack's Kabuki essence hidden w/in The Black Bang, specifically from his Metamorphosis series. Maybe it's due to Mack's creative use of mixing mediums and repetition in his own renderings. This is always a surprise when seeing Amer's works up close and a perennial thing I must persuade first-time viewers: beneath the sea of pedagogic hetero-male porno imagery is something quite beautiful. My take: Amer strips the male exploitative intent from her subjects, the crudeness of the skin mags and other media she appropriates, extracting out the gratuitous so only this naturally tender essence remains. Their explicit nature doesn't harbor the blatant charge of Julian Opie's abstract renderings (and I'll leave John Currin out of this beyond dropping his name). With Amer's art, we are left with resplendent women, self-pleasuring and mutually pleasuring, celebrating sexuality amid a diaphanous wash of paint and thread.