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Objectify This: What’s Under the Pink

“Objectify This” Show at Design Cloud, Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Ruiz

Design Cloud’s current exhibition Objectify This, curated by Vanessa Ruiz, displays a concentrated emphasis on the feminine body (specifically female anatomy) to issue a pointed, yet refined overview of how women have been reduced to pieces of meat in art and since have transcended the confines of these patriarchal structures. The artists’ blunt examinations of female anatomy brings gravity and a sense of urgency to the show’s thesis and structures a true dialogue about where the sexes are positioned today and how we treat one another.

“Malum E” by Michael Reedy

 

Vanessa Ruiz, a Medical Illustrator by trade, started the blog Street Anatomy to catalog and feature artwork that integrated anatomy into its compositions. The breadth of the work archived on her blog is remarkable. From gritty street artwork to highly-polished works displayed in museums, the site records how artists in various disciplines regard the body and use its organs to create diverse and stunning works. Pulling from the expansive library on her site, Ruiz focused in on artists’ depiction of female anatomy to organize her show at Design Cloud.

The title of the show alone prompts the viewer to critically regard the work on display, however the artwork throughout Design Cloud loudly offers its own critical analysis of the female form and how it has been traditionally represented. The paintings by Michael Reedy depict nude women rendered in classical soft lighting and refined brushwork. Two of Reedy’s paintings greet viewers when they enter the gallery. While his paintings are at first sensual and romantic, portions of the subjects’ flesh are clinically removed to reveal the musculature or skeletal structures beneath. Reedy’s work subverts the audience’s expectations by allowing some portions of the body to be regarded as nude while others are completely raw showing the not-so-sexy tendons and bones beneath the skin in areas that are often obsessed over within the male gaze but are rarely considered with the same regard as a muscle or blood vessel would.
When asked why she chose to focus on women’s bodies, specifically their anatomy for the show, curator Vanessa Ruiz recalled the unbalanced representation of women throughout her anatomy classes at grad school. “In Medical Illustration history, the male body has always been the ‘perfect’ or ‘standard’ human form and the female body is presented as a variation. Even when you’re looking at a heart, it’s a man’s heart,” Ruiz explained to me at the show opening. “In anatomy textbooks you have the male form and then just a few chapters on the female reproductive system. Female bodies are not a variation of the male body – we have our own unique anatomy, which is partially why this show is only comparing female bodies to other female bodies.”

Fernando Vicente

Comparing bodies can be similar to the ways in which an audience can compare artists’ work. The form may be similar but there are important differences that make each artist in the show feel exciting and intriguing. Across from Michael Reedy’s work are Fernando Vicente’s illustrative paintings of women merged with anatomical diagrams. Vicente’s work is much more stylized than Reedy’s allowing the subjects to cross over into pin-up model territory. One of Vicente’s most provocative pieces portrays a voluptuous red-headed woman in profile. The subject dons makeup and a large chignon while the paint handling of Vicente treats her in a similar aesthetic to a Vargas girl. The bottom of the frame is anchored seductively by the model’s swelling breasts, however Vicente breaks the sensual aura of the painting by revealing the vertebrae and musculature running up to the exposed brain and skull beneath the mighty updo. The tension between the two focal points of the piece may be establishing the painting as an observation of the potency of beauty and the power of intellect. A look at the title offers another option. The title Marie Antoinette enhances the poignancy of the piece, calling to mind the scrutiny and criticism assigned to women throughout history.

“Marie Antoinette” by Fernando Vicente

While the artwork on display was truly remarkable, the entire opening reception bolstered Ruiz’s clear call to the nuanced and changing tides of how women are viewed in society. Twice throughout the evening, the networking, mingling, and wine-sipping was drawn to a halt by burlesque performances in the middle of the gallery. The dancers were both shy, coquettish fairies and bold, wild forces. The first performer opened the performances with a traditional burlesque style – lacey sequined garments revealed smaller sequined coverings beneath, but scrawled across her body were an array of proper anatomical names for the alluring body parts. When another dancer seductively turned her back to the audience to gyrate, her bum had been painted over with realistic anatomical musculature. When asked about the inclusion of the burlesque performances in the show, Ruiz explained that burlesque stands as an empowering act for women. “It’s not so much about sexuality, it’s about sensuality. The range of women that do it go from the extremely curvaceous to the tiniest, skinny little girls. Females are so self-conscious about their bodies I think the most freeing thing would be to get up in front of an audience and be fine with your body and take your clothes off. When I see women who are able to do that, I respect them so much”

Burlesque Performance by Vaudezilla’s “Po’Chop”, Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Ruiz

The crowd at the opening seemed initially surprised by the burlesque acts at first but ultimately roared with applause during each act. After each performance the staff served cupcakes to the audience molded into the shapes of human hearts and encased in shiny butter cream frosting. But perhaps the most inventive aspect of the opening at Design Cloud was the inclusion of a print shop, offering high quality giclee prints of a selection of art displayed in the show. This is quite a forward approach for an art show today and before I left for the evening all but a few of the available prints had sold out.

The crowd at the opening of “Objectify This”, Photo Courtesy of Vanessa Ruiz

The other art pieces in Objectify This continue in the theme of women stripping themselves in the literal and figurative sense for viewers. Going down to the bone in most cases provides a blunt declaration of the female body being a human body rather than a sex object as artists and viewers are quick to forget at times. While the exposure of the women’s anatomy is often depicted with unflinching detail to tendons and flexed musculature, the refinement of the paintings and drawings does not register as an enraged stance in efforts to condemn the visions of the female form that have been offered up to women by men. That would have separated women from a significant portion of their sensuality, suggesting that women are not to be thought of as sexual or romantic at all. Instead, the work portrays fully-realized female identities while the artists underscore the corporal and the emotional facets of the female subjects in their own specific fashion. The women in the paintings do not shy away from their nakedness nor do they flinch at the deep red muscles under their pink skin. Vanessa Ruiz’s thesis reminds audiences of the universal structures of human interaction and how quickly the beating heart can be ignored for an exposed areola instead. With Ruiz’s careful selection of highly polished works, Objectify This becomes something other than “another feminist art show” and stands as a strong statement of reclamation of human unity and respect.

 

“Objectify This” closes September 29th.  See the show at Design Cloud before it closes and to inquire about prints of the artwork.

 Design Cloud is located at 118 N Peoria.

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