Exhibit | Terrible Premise, Good Art: The Curatorial Conundrum of “XX” at Subliminal Projects

Photo: Courtesy of 9f Subliminal Projects

It’s suspicious to name a show “XX,” give no explanation other than “it’s a show about eight emerging Los Angeles artists,” and leave it at that. “XX” very obviously refers to the female chromosome, however, and while all the artists in this show happened to be female-identified, is that really why they were curated together? Oh wait, it is even though the press release text doesn’t come out and say that. Additionally, the lack of curation just seems like the showcase of a gallery’s stable, as if plucking the goods from the backroom and arranging them, showing as many pieces as possible, without any real order or flow. Instead one just finds clusters of work by each of the eight artists, like a high school art show where every artist involved gets their own showcase or trophy area.

Christine Wang’s series of nine jokey post-ironic paintings all read OIL PAINTERS DON’T NEED WATER in stencil letters over a map of the state of California, nodding to the ongoing terror of the drought. These paintings remind of signage and taglines that say SAVE WATER DRINK BEER, but they have an art-y spin to them, and greet people upon arrival to the gallery. Suzanne Wright’s various large-scale drawings of feminine women with architectural elements either on top of, inside of, or entering into their bodies while said women masturbate or appear in varying states of arousal, offer both an erotic and off-putting take on violence (both welcome and not) that is put upon women under systemic sexism and the patriarchy. Curiously, her drawings seem to say get off on this! which makes them oddly humorous.

Courtesy of 9f Subliminal Projects

Other architectural arrangements in this show are less nuanced, like Christina Hendersaw’s ink and graphite drawings of shadow-y downtown buildings. Ariana Papademetropoulos’ oil on canvas painting Eternal (2013) looks like what the grim reaper might offer his ghost bride, with beautifully patterned flowers hovering over what could be a murky silent-film era mountainscape. Elsewhere in the gallery, one finds Melissa Huddleston’s Self-Portrait In Death Valley (2014), a delicate watercolor on paper that portrays the artist triumphantly handling a snake, possibly killing it. Angeline Rivas’ tectonic like drawn structures offer locations of futuristic worship centers, while Natalie Margulis’ paintings appear to be reincarnated cave wall drawings. Erin Morrison’s oil and ink on hydrocal works crack the perfect still-life template, evoking a dimension of discord. With the number of talented artists in this show, there should be a lot more from a curatorial vision.

Courtesy of 9f Subliminal Projects

First off, to curate a show of only female artists isn’t interesting or novel, and to not even state that as the premise of the show even though it obviously is makes this show feel like a feminist who won’t come out and call themselves a feminist (ahem, Taylor Swift!). Increasingly visibility and opportunities for female-identified artists, whether they are cis or transgender, is always a goal, especially in the heavily white male art world. Projects like Micol Hebron’s tallying male and female artists on rosters in Los Angeles galleries remind of this reality, revealing statistics about gender-bias in the gallery system that look like 75% male and 25% female (this is gender-only, not race-based). This is even bleaker considering that MFA programs end up being between 65% and 75% female.

Courtesy of 9f Subliminal Projects

Furthermore, the varying works on display aren’t in dialogue, and don’t post questions about the broader themes that crop up for these eight Los Angeles artists — if there are any at all, that is. Because there’s no structure or direction, the environment of the art gallery isn’t lit up in the way it could or should be; in a show like this, the environment is created by the relationships between the works of art on display.

What would actually make this curatorial premise more relevant? For one, how about an explanation from the curator, or whoever organized this show, about why they felt it relevant to curate an all-woman show. Instead, they threw together an all-female show, which points to the larger problem of the patriarchy, systemic sexism, and gender discrimination in the visual arts, which feels on-par with throwing a bone, rather than a boner, to all the ladies.

“XX” ran through September 26 at Subliminal Projects.