Bearings is about bearing up, bearing down, about getting one’s bearings and taking one’s bearings, and about the artists bearing gifts—of insight, caution, and satire. A new painting by Joan Semmel, In the Pink, from her series Self Portraits with Camera finds the legendary feminist painter as bold and compelling as ever. Lisa Kereszi’s burlesque dancer onstage recalls the noirish glamour of Edward Hooper, with a twist: the person highlighted in the audience is another woman. Carrie Levy’s nude female figure turns her head away from the viewer as if in shame or avoidance: Levy’s approach to the nude evolved from her staged work exploring her father’s imprisonment. Ann Mandelbaum presents a wall sculpture, a silcone cast of her elbow, jutting out from an abstracted, flesh-colored ground, like a jab in a dream.
Christine Osinski photographs women on a synchronized swimming team in Staten Island, embracing their sense of community. Sally Tosti creates a memorable portrait of a woman holding an Impeach Bush placard at an anti-war protest, shadowed by riot police nearby. Mariette Pathy Allen, author of The Gender Frontier, finds an older trangender activist in an ordinary moment and reveals a female body builder backstage, intimate but monumental.
Linda Salerno’s lushly worked painting on paper juxtaposes fashionable French ladies from the 1850’s with botanical details, evoking both a sense of mortality and grandeur. Eri Morita depicts one of her sisters in full pregnancy in a moment of solitude and fatigue, one of the highlights of her recent book Home Drama. Jo Shane photographs her young daughter experimenting with blush.
Thelma Garcia records her stints as a cater-waiter in a series called Five-Hour Minimum. Laura Elkins presents a painting of herself done over ‘50’s fabric as Mamie Eisenhower from her First Ladies series. Pam Butler’s watercolors of Miss America contestants’ headshots pierce nostalgia with acerbic wit. And Jeanine Oleson spoofs lesbian fantasies of the outdoors with a five-foot floor sculpture: a lone woman in a rowboat approaches an island whose sprawling shape is labial.
A few examples from other decades are included: an early black and white Nan Goldin vintage print from the early 70’s of a drag queen having her morning cup of coffee; selections from the late Miriam Cooper’s series “Women in Bed,” a little-known treasure of 70’s portraiture; stills from Barbara Nitke’s early 80’s porn set series; an excerpt from a 30-year autoportrait diary by photographer Abby Robinson; a set of figurative drawings from the early 90’s by Nicola Tyson, and a provocative print by Sue Williams of a cowgirl whose idea of Bonanza is a big surprise for Michael Landon.
The exhibition is accompanied by an essay written by art historian and critic Cassandra Langer, who is currently working on a critical study of the lesbian expatriate painter Romaine Brooks. The curator Allen Frame is also a photographer and writer and author of the photographic monograph Detour.