Friday, September 18, 2009

Dorothy Iannone: Lioness. Through Oct 18

New Museum of Contemporary Art, 235 Bowery, at Prince street

Dorothy Iannone: Lioness. Through Oct 18

Dorothy Iannone has been producing provocative art that deals with sex and the body, and the societal taboos surrounding them since the early 60s. Her work has always been a first person narrative, and has focused largely on charting the artists personal sexual history. According to the wall text her work is strongly informed by Egyptian art, and Byzantine mosaics. Personally I see more of a folk influence, specifically in the deliberate crudeness of the figures and the way they're rendered. Howard Finster is the first name that comes to mind. Lannone first gained some notoriety in 1961 when she was arrested for attempting to bring a Henry Miller book into the country when the writers works were still banned. The book was confiscated, and the artist sued to have it returned to her. She won the case, which helped pave the way for the ban on Millers work to be lifted . Some years later in a group show she was forced to cover the depiction of genitals in one of her paintings, which caused an uproar from fellow artists, and earned her more publicity. Her former lover, the artist Dieter Roth gave her the moniker "Lioness" which she's used ever since.

With a build up like that I wish I could tell you she was a better artist. I, for one was very disappointed. This is a small show, particularly since it's supposed to be a retrospective of sorts, but it didn't leave me hungry for more. Part of the problem is that what was revolutionary and provocative in the 60s and 70s doesn't always hold up today, so the loaded subject matter kind of comes off as a juvenile attempt to shock the viewer. That wouldn't bother me so much if the work had a little more formal or aesthetic intrigue. although, some work is better than others. There's a narrative, graphic novel type series of drawings with text called "Icelandic Saga" (1975-83) which is the best piece in the show. Its small scale gives it a personal, humble quality that seems to compliment the subject matter. There are also a series of small wooden cutouts of celebrities and historical figures with their genitals hanging out (1966-67) that have a perverse folksy charm. But, then there are these large scale paintings that really don't work at all on a formal or expressive level. The images look pretentious and ugly, and badly painted. I wish I could say that she is rebelling against conventional aesthetics, but I think it's just that she's a really bad painter. There's also this video piece which is one of the dumbest, most inelegant works of art I've seen in a while. I don't want to waste any time or space describing it.

I've heard that Ms Iannone is having a concurrent show at the Anton Kern Gallery on west 20th street. Maybe it's better than this one. I don't know, because I'm not going to see it. If anyone does, let me know.