Momenta presents Elisabeth Kley’s first solo exhibition. This extensive and ambitious exhibition traverses drawing, ceramics, and video to present an exotic world of extravagant personalities and architecture. Pencil and ink collaged portraits, drawn and ceramic pavilions, fountains, and peacocks, and a video of a drag performance combine to construct a baroque, enveloping environment.
Looking for subjects of portraiture that could act as stand-ins and elaborations for her departed father led her to an unlikely group, including Salvador Dali, Peggy Guggenheim, Elsie de Wolfe, Pauline Trigere, Louise Nevelson, Coco Chanel, and Jack Smith. With their flamboyant costumes and sensational behavior, these artists, writers, fashion designers, interior decorators, performers and collectors seemed to be trying to divert their own attention from the traces of mortality that appeared upon their faces and bodies.
In recent work, Kley has become interested in drag as an even more conscious form of transformation akin to the transformation of subject to object in art-making itself. The recent drawings are begun in pencil and continued in collage. Facial features and fragments of clothing are drawn separately in ink and gouache and then pinned and rearranged in a process that echoes the fluidity of drag identity. In the past year, Kley has begun using her own photographs of drag performances as sources for her imagery. The work allows her to transcend her own reserved personality and to vicariously participate in bold and courageous physical transformations.
With references to Roman, Islamic, Asian, and Byzantine styles, among others, the pavilions that appear in drawings, ceramics and fountains could be seen as fantasy versions of her architect father’s utilitarian shopping center designs. Fantastic additions creep in and eyes proliferate, as if the buildings themselves are also in drag. Peacocks, another drag symbol, strut through Kley’s installation, tails unfolding flamboyantly. Echoing this metamorphosis, there will be a video of a performer in peacock headdress lip-synching a “Cher” song in drag in his apartment on a stage he improvised using houseplants and patterned textiles an environment reminiscent of the ersatz exotic settings Matisse created in the thirties and forties in Nice for his female models. Kley reverses that voyeuristic gaze, taking on Matisse’s role in yet another form of drag.