By Tod Roulette
Escape the cyber discount holiday shopping and remakes of remakes of Bing Crosby films; instead stretching your eyes and mind at Invisible Exports Gallery, 89 Eldridge Street (not far from the New Museum on Bowery Street). The exhibit is titled, Come On Daughter, Save Your Mother the work of Vaginal Davis (also known as Dr. Vaginal Creme Davis). Vaginal is homo-core punk, bi-lingual, bi-racial performance intersex singer cum artist and for almost ten years has lived, worked, taught and lectured in Berlin Germany. She has made art and music since the early 1980’s; Vaginal has adopted many personas– Clarence-a white supremacist rocker, Graziela Grejalva to aging deviant, John Dean Egg III and a singer in Afro Sisters. This is not your mother’s white Christmas, nor is the art.
The room has 16 blood red mounted wall reliefs; which instantly evoke bricks, (a la Stonewall Riots, Watts or Detroit Civil Rights implosions). The works have ancient, irreverent titles and ghostly associations such as Temple of Baalshamin at Palmyra (2015) 6 x 18 x 3.75 inches. Davis’ title here refers to Baalshamin who was one of two supreme gods and the sky god of pre-Islamic Palmyra in ancient Syria. The site was destroyed by ISIL this year in August. The late Professor Jose Munoz named and diagnosed Davis a “drag terrorist” in his scholarly book, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (1999).
In Temple of Baalshamin at Palmyra is clearly alludes to destruction of something godlike for the artist, it is literally the vagina, womanhood women. Davis has pinched her clay and beauty palette of nail polish, witch hazel and hydrogen peroxide and perfume into eight as yet to be opened clam shell-like forms. I think Davis is underlining with a dark lip liner the fact that developed countries and third world countries both have major unresolved and contentious desires to worship, dominate and even respond genuinely to women while at the same time annihilate their inner being and outward expression. The small tactile fecundity of this work parallels the male attraction and demon to destroy–they can’t even psychologically put their finger on it. This dilemma has been the funny, ridiculous and disturbing interrogating work of Vaginal Davis for the past 30 years-sex, gender roles, and race and even hi-low fashion and art.
In the work, Proper Butch Goddess Freya (2015) the fact that Davis has used Jean Nate perfume to construct this almost formless bust of a female one that is emerging or possibly disintegrating to maybe reemerge is vital tool in her being a fine art terrorist. The motto of the inexpensive fragrance for women was, Something Bold, Something New, It gives you the feeling there’s Nothing You Can’t Do” Davis work is not pretty, she intends it to be disturbing, like punk rock music, the message is the thing. She wants to grab you and shake you to revolt as she has as a black Mexican drag non-glamorous, non Super Model of the World wanna be blacktress.
Art historically there are some links between these clay works of Davis and Medardo Rosso The Italian-born sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858-1928) who was a younger creator after Auguste Rodin. Rosso created melding clay intimate busts of children, women and small-scale figures that appear spontaneous in modeling. Most prominent in contemporary sexually explicit sculptor Davis owes homage to Hannah Wilke, (1940-1993); whose pieces passionately revolved around the female body, genitalia, sensuality and unabashed open celebration. But, no less so a list of African American female sculptors such as Selma Burke (1900– 1995), Edmonia Lewis (d 1907) Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
(1877-1968) Betye Saar (1926-), Augusta Savage (1892-1962) and Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) that made black female artists in the studio less of an anomaly. Each of these African American female sculptors might be considered foremothers of Davis identity politics if not her hyper sexual ironies. When you visit Come On Daughter Save Me ask them to play Clear, the limited edition LP of Davis performing, it is on the record player sitting in the room. The ideas here will break the spell of holiday elevator music. But, it’s only on view through Sunday, December 20.