This first floor exhibit in the Whitney Museum of American Art, ‘Stewart Uoo and Jane Euler: Outside Inside Sensibility,’ is partially hidden behind a thin, almost transparent white curtain, reminding one of a stage of a play about to be performed. The ‘actresses’ behind the curtain provide an opportunity to be seen and studied, without a word being spoken.
The area before the curtain includes a pamphlet with an explanation of the deeper meaning of what these eight manikins and one painting are supposed to represent. Please ignore this explanation–view the works with an open, active mind, and read the explanation on the way out.
This approach raises the question of whether an artist’s interpretation should supersede that of the viewer’s. One response is that the audience of a work of art needs to react to that work on its own terms. Only then should the perspective of the artist be known. If the artist was sad and depressed during the creative process, for example, the viewer may be inhibited from feeling the joy the work may evoke if s/he knew.
In this exhibit, all of the figures, with the possible exception of one androgynous male (female?) with sunglasses and jet black hair, the head turned to the right, looking behind her/him, over her right shoulder, are women–glamorous, young, thin, sophisticated women, showing off their wealth, wearing furs, listening to music, wearing pearls and long lashes.
One unfortunate woman, dressed and colored in grays and blacks with traces of red (blood?), looks like an erect corpse, with a veil and black feathers sticking out from behind. As one walks around her, some views are more engaging than others, but the less engaging views from behind act as a pause in her movement, the same way a movie may dim to black between scenes.
The bodies of all of the manikins are cut off above the waist and supported by a metal pole that appears to be screwed into the floor. The reclining figures have a second pole that attaches to a wall. The poles are gray. One almost forgets about them after the initial shock. The glamour and beauty of these women overwhelm what is missing. The gestures are still there. The breasts and the curve of the hips are not. The metal poles feel at home with the figures they are supporting. The women have no arms, no legs, are painted in strange colors, and have their insides exposed. Seeing so many of them against the backdrop of a see-through white curtain that separates the exhibit, but does not isolate it, from the rest of the museum, makes one curious to see more. Looked at from the other side, from the outside looking in, the curtain provides an invitation to explore the other side (before one explores the Hopper drawing show, for example).
The figures shake a little as one walks near them because the ground moves when one’s steps are too heavy. After a minute or so, one almost forgets these are manikins; one sees them as real women to be observed and to be interacted with. None of the women are looking straight ahead, and after a while of being immersed in the exhibit, one forgets that these women have no arms, no legs, and no lower torsos. This is who they are, given separate personalities by their attire, their make up, the color of their hair, etc.; the original feeling of decay is replaced by glamour. One exception to this is poor Samantha II, whose gray head is dangling close to the ground with a sticky substance (dry blood?) coming out of her nostrils and chin.
The choice of colors and their application are artfully done. The reason for these women being presented as they are would lose meaning if this were not the case.
The one painting in the exhibit was done by Jana Euler–‘Whitney,’ from 2013. The head of Whitney is almost too large for the height of the canvas. Whitney is another glamorous woman, resembling a young Raquel Welch, but not quite. This is Whitney in the Whitney Museum, with musical notes traveling from one end of the canvas to the other, with two nude, bald figures sharing the canvas with her. The nude figure on the left is partially surrounded by brick, with a small, square opening to a desirable part of her figure. One looks and wonders and thinks about what Ms. Euler is thinking. This process is more important than whether Ms. Euler is able to turn the form.
The Whitney pamphlet includes this description of the exhibit:
“Both Stewart Uoo and Jana Euler explore the ways in which current social, technological, and cultural forces are shaping the contemporary self. With his dystrophic cyborg sculptures, Uoo identifies the human form as a porous medium to be built up and broken down simultaneously: the body is represented as a synthetic relic of identity fashioned in equal measures by commercial, technological, and trend-driven interests. The cyborg functions in Uoo’s works as an almost reassuringly familiar vehicle for rehearsing narratives of the pathological subject.”
From May 10 until August 11, 2013, the opportunity will be there to see this exhibit and figure out what the previous paragraph means. The Whitney Museum of American Art is located at 945 Madison Avenue by East 75th Street.