Alice Neel (American, 1900--1984)
Andy Warhol, 1970
Oil on canvas 60" x 40"
Whitney Museum of American Art,
New York, Gift of Timothy Collins
|Form: The paint quality for this portrait is typical of Alice Neel's'
work. It is applied in thin washes, almost giving it the appearance of
a watercolor. The line quality is quick and nervous, somewhat spidery,
looking as though it was done quickly
and instinctually. The composition is symmetrical, with the figure being set right in the center of the picture plane.
The color is non-local and seemingly chosen at random. Her paintings are very process oriented, which means that it is more important for the artist to be involved in the process of making the painting as opposed to the final painting . It looks unfinished because only the figure is painted in any realistic way, and the background and chair are flat.
Iconography: She did not try to glamorize or objectify any of her models, everyone was shown as she saw them. Though Andy Warhol was a famous artist in his own right, she showed him as the fragile human he was, frail, with flaccid muscle tone due to his illness.. He is wearing the corset that was a constant necessity after his surgery, and she is showing him vulnerable, eyes closed and hands clasped loosely in his lap as though he has resigned himself to the less than perfect physical condition he was in.
Context: This is a portrait of Andy Warhol shortly after he had been stabbed. Her painting style is described in Stokstad as subjective and 'penetrating', as a result they were often too much for the aesthetic of the time. The fact that he looks resigned to his less then perfect image is significant because his career was based on media images and the glorification of beauty. In "The Andy Warhol Diaries," by Pat Hackett, it is clearly shown that he constantly surrounded himself by beautiful people and things, and strove for a level of physical perfection that was clearly out of his reach. Though bald, his vanity led him to don his trademark wig, shown in the painting carefully arranged, trying his best to maintain his dignity and illusion of youth. In Stokstad, it is noted that Alice Neel had lived a life filled with crises and strife. One of her children had died while still an infant, and the other was abducted by a former husband. She was a self-taught artist with no formal training. Early on, she adopted an Expressionistic style that featured distorted, subjective portraits of close friends, couples, and mothers with their children. In the 1930's her style softened somewhat, though she never lost her penchant for being subjective. She socialized with well known artists, writers and critics and in the 1960's began to feature many of them in her work. It is through the lens of her early life that one can see how she relished showing people as they truly were. She had never lived an easy life, and clearly saw and portrayed the reality of the human condition in her paintings.
Alice Neel (American, 1900--1984)
Linda Nochlin and Daisy, 1973 Oil on canvas
55-7/8" x 44"
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Seth K. Sweetser Fund
|Form: The paint quality for this work is again thin, but appears
much less 'washy' looking than many of her other paintings. The lines are
still quick and loosely rendered, giving it an agitated, nervous feel.
She is again staying with the symmetrical composition, the subjects are
in the very center of the painting. The disadvantage to this type of composition
is that it tends to make the painting less interesting to the eye. The
colors are non-local, saturated and somewhat randomly applied, especially
in the flesh tones. The figures and chair they are sitting on look distorted.
Iconography: Alice Neel has not tried to make her subject physically beautiful. Instead, she has shown her as she appeared in real life. The 'beauty' in the subject comes from Nochlin's' aggressive stare, erect posture, and arms placed protectively around and behind her daughter. Her body language is tense and formal, legs crossed and stiff. In contrast, and perhaps because of her mothers protection, the daughter is loose and informal. Her legs and arms are at ease and her facial expression suggests curiosity and wonder.
Context: This is a painting of Linda Nochlin and her daughter, Daisy. According to Stokstad, Linda Nochlin was a professor at Vassar and wrote an essay in 1971 entitled "Why have there been no great women artists?", which helped to bring attention to feminist art history and argued that women had been 'deprived the opportunity to achieve greatness by their exclusion from the male dominated institutional systems of training, patronage, and criticism that set the standards of professional accomplishment.' Alice Neel is showing Nochlin as protective and loving toward her daughter, underscoring the belief that Nochlin held about creating a more equal future for her daughter as well as all the other young woman growing up in that time period, as well as beyond. There is a measure of tenderness and wistfullness shown in the painting, most likely because of the death of Alice Neel's' one child and kidnapping of the other. It is showing a strong, educated woman who is also fulfilling the role of a mother as well as a feminist, and succeeding at both.
Barbara Kruger. Untitled. 1987
|Form: Photostat, high contrast photograph overlaid with text.
This is a collage type of esthetic made popular first by the Dada artists
such as Hannah Hoch and others. The images are overlaid with text
which can also be read iconographically.
Iconography: It almost appears as if the artist has randomly chosen photographs and phrases. This almost Dada like technique of fusing random association with commercial process links Kruger to the Pop Art movement as well. According to Stokstad, Barbara Kruger felt that the media created myths concerning female ideals of beauty, consumerism, and culture. Her goal with this work was to show that in our society, what the media tells people is that the possession of goods is what creates a person. It is a blatant statement on what the artist perceives as the American media ideals of ownership equaling success. In terms of feminism, it is a statement about the myth that American women are 'shopaholics', interested more in acquiring clothing and jewels than an education. The hand in the photograph is male, and it is interesting to note that it's holding what can be read as a credit card in a confrontational manner, right into the forefront of the picture plane. This has the effect of creating a strong statement, not a suggestion. Her use of a red card with white lettering makes the text as stark as the underlying image.
Context: In Stokstad, it is noted that Barbara Kruger had experience as a designer and photo editor for women's magazines. She was born in 1945 and was growing up in the generation where the feminist movement began to take shape. She began creating these works in the 1970's, and she wanted to 'undermine the media with it's own devices.' Going back to the creation of myths by the media, she had declared that the goal of her work was to "break myths, not create them." It is important to note that in the 1960's and 70's, media images of women in magazines focused on stereotypical images of women creating a perfect home life for their husbands, finishing dinner in time to fix a martini for the hard working man. At this time as well, the magazine Playboy had started to gain momentum, placing women in a compliant 'sex-kitten' role, good only for an arm adornment to a successful, wealthy male. It is in this atmosphere that Barbara Kruger fought to make these media images work against themselves, showing the hypocrisy behind the accepted imagery.
"Her groundbreaking feminist public art pieces often use humor to talk
back, and confront the master narrative. What does that mean? She confronts
the ideology promoted by our culture and the exclusion of discourse. She
encourages individuality and individual thinking, not following dominant
ideologies, and resisting impositions of culture. She points out errors
of representations that are one sided and fail to take into consideration
the diversity inherent (but usually ignored) in our culture.) All day we
look at images like advertisements that do nothing but make us slaves to
materialism, but then you see her stuff and it says "I shop therefore I
am" getting people to question what really am I doing?"
Barbara Kruger. Untitled. 1980
|Form: Photostat, high contrast black and white photograph overlaid
with snatches of text which can also be read iconographically.
Iconography: Using a high contrast black and white photograph of a sculpture that resembles a greek statue, the artist shows an ideal of 'female beauty'. The text to the left of the picture reads, "Your gaze hits the side of my face." This is a play on words that recalls an art historical term, "male gaze." The term refers to the fact that in earlier times, classically trained artists were male, and the paintings they did of women were done through their eyes, their 'male gaze', so to speak. Often, the early classical paintings showed women as objects, the were often prostitutes, concubines, or the wives of rich patrons. The women of these paintings were also objectified and often made to appear much more attractive than they truly were. Therefore, it can be seen that the irony of this work is in the use of a 'classical' Greek sculpture, and the use of the phrase as an attack. The words 'hits the side of my face.' brings up mental images of violence, specifically of men against women. It can mean either a mental or physical violence, but more than likely it is showing that the way women are leered at by men, looked at as sexual objects, can be as violent as a physical slap to the face. By seeing women as nothing more than an object, it is violence to them by dehumanizing them.
Context: The artist again uses her unique background as an editor and as an educated artist to create this work. She is not so much dealing with a broad media-induced myth as she is with what she perceives to be a direct objectification of women by men through what the media glorifies them as. In this case, it is women as cool, unfeeling objects or statues. They are there to be gazed upon in any way the male sees fit.
Post-Partum Document I, Prototype, 1974
Analysis of fecal stains and feeding charts
Perspex units, liners, faeces, white card, ink
36,3 x 28,7 x 3,5 cm each
|Form: ten parts, analysis of fecal stains and
feeding charts. Perspex units, liners, faeces, white card, and ink.
This is a multi-part installation work. This is a collage
type of esthetic made popular first by the Dada artists such as Hannah
Hoch and others. The images are overlaid with snatches of text which
can also be read iconographically.
Iconography: It almost appears as if the artist has randomly chosen photographs and phrases. This almost Dada like technique of fusing random association with commercial process links Mary Kelly like Kruger to the Pop Art movement as well. In "Post-Partum-Document" Kelly uses the conceptualist procedure of documentation to introduce an interrogation of the subject. The "Introduction" and the six following sections deal with the relationship of the working mother with her (male) child. The use of all the objects, is a sort of memorabilia to the mother, showing her what once was with her child. The writing and not so random images is how she ( the mother) is dealing with the separation from her child and the differences between their sex.
Context: "Mary Kelly (*1941, USA) lived in London between 1968 and the
early eighties then in New York City until 1996 and is presently Professor
and Chair of the Art Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Kelly has always been active in several fields at the same time, as theoretician
with a special interest in psychoanalysis and feminism, as an educator,
curator and artist." (http://www.gfound.or.at/RUECK/altpro/kelly_e.htm)
Miriam Shapiro, "Coeur Des Fleurs", 1980, acrylic, fabric and o/c.
|Form: Collage using acrylic and fabric. This image is constructed
to share many of the same qualities as a traditional crafted quilt.
Because of the nature of the art work, the artist has coined the term "femmage"
to describe this uniquely female oriented piece.
Iconography: By taking the 'craft' of quilt making out of the
context of necessity of housekeeping and providing warmth for a family,
she is showing it as an art form that has been used by generations of women
to tell stories, teach, and comment on social climates. It is a craft that
has always been unique to women, but never recognized as an art form by
patriarchal society. She is making a strong statement about a woman's place
by taking traditional 'feminine' objects, 'yarn, silk, taffeta, lace, etc.'
and placing them on contemporary art works, elevating them out of their
Context: This "femmage" was part of a collective art work Miriam Shapiro did with fellow feminist artist Judy Chicago and students at CalArts. She wanted to use materials that had been historically used by women to create quilts, which had not been seen in the past as art forms.
Miriam Shapiro was born in 1926 and received her first degree in 1945, going on to receive two more degrees, an M.A. and an M.F.A. in 1946 and 1949 respectively. She was very much influenced by feminism and specifically feminist art. She taught a Feminist Art program at CalArts and strongly believed in educating people about the history of women's art.
Bridal Staircase from Womanhouse 1971. Judy Chicago's
"Menstruation Bathroom," was first
created in "Womanhouse" in the 70's
and was re-created in 1995 at the
Museum of Contemporary
Art in Los Angeles.
|Form: Installation piece, in situ. Various rooms decorated differently.
Also was a performance piece in some of the rooms.
Iconography: The themes in the different rooms at Womanhouse all had one thing in common, that women understood them, and that they showed the plight of woman kind. "Womanhouse explored and challenged - with a complex mixture of longing, nostalgia, horror, and rage - the domestic role historically assigned to women in middle-class American society." http://www.JudyChicago.com/
Context: Excerpted from the essay
Women's labor formed the subject matter of Womanhouse, a large
scale cooperative project executed [as part of] the Feminist Art Program
at CalArts where Judy Chicago, in collaboration with CalArts instructor
Miriam Schapiro (Chicago had moved the program which she founded in 1970
at Fresno State College to CalArts in the fall of 1971), [took] an abandoned
Hollywood house [and] transformed [it] into a series of fantasy environments.
Manual labor of the sort typically performed by men was an integral part
of the project, however, since the dilapidated house needed to be repaired
and renovated before the artists could begin their work on the environments.
Students installed window casings, rebuilt broken furniture and banisters,
refinished floors, plastered walls, and painted.
Judy Chicago was born in 1939 and attended graduate school at UCLA. It was at this time that she began to develop feminine imagery in her paintings and sculpture. Throughout her art career she has always been interested in and involved in themes that are uniquely female and symbolic. She, along with Miriam Shapiro, was on the forefront of bringing female imagery and objects into the mainstream art world.
A look through the house:
Judy Chicago. The Dinner Party. 1973-79
Mixed media installation. An equilateral triangular shaped table with 13
place settings to each side and embroidered cloth. There is an ornate runner
underneath the specially designed napkins for the individual place settings.
The middle of the table has tile which lists 999 names of women. Some examples
of place settings are the Goddess Ishtar, Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, and
Renaissance painter Artemesia Gentileschi. Every place setting features
a fourteen inch wide plate that is painted with an abstract design that
is representative of female genitalia.
Iconography: She put an enormous amount of symbolism into this work, the table is a triangle to represent an 'equalized world sought by feminism.' It was placed on a triangular platform which had been set with triangular tiles that have the names of 999 influential women. She used the number thirteen as a symbol of occult power, such as thirteen men whom had been seated at the table at the last supper, and thirteen as the number of witches in a coven; hence there were thirteen places at each side of the table. The women that she represented were a mixture of real and mythical, and spanned through time and history. The reason for the female genitalia on the plates was, in her words because "that is all (the women at the table) had in common....They were from different periods, classes, ethnicities, geographies, experiences, but what kept them within the same historical space" was the fact of their biological sex. She also thought the women were best represented by these plates because, "they had been swallowed up and obscured by history instead of being recognized and honored." She used mediums that had been the traditional domain of women, such as needlework and china painting, again reinforcing the significance that women have always had in the art world.
Context: According to Stokstad, this was a collaborative effort headed and conceptualized by Judy Chicago. It took five years to complete, and involved hundreds of artists, both male and female. Her goal was to pay homage to influential women throughout history. One of the settings, depicts Mary Wollstonecraft, a leading feminist writer who died while giving birth to her daughter, Mary Shelley, who grew up to write the well known novel Frankenstein.
Judy Chicago has always had symbolic female imagery in her work, as well as consideration for the importance of women as craftsmen and artists in their own right throughout time. The sheer size, time and effort that it took to create this piece speaks volumes about how important recognition of the power of creative women was to her, and how strongly she felt that women needed to be given credit and equality for their part in shaping art history.
"Dinner Party-Place Setting,
Ceramic Plate of Georgia O'Keefe",
|Form: Hand thrown and sculpted ceramic plate, painted and glazed.
The plate is sculpted to look like a vagina and is inscribed with a feminine
style cursive text. The plate has an organic abstract look to it. It's
mostly reddish brown with some pink to it.
Iconography: The plate has an organic flow, with its depiction of a vagina. Together with the words, and a fellow artist's name, Chicago is making a statement about the female in a male dominated society. Because women are seen mostly by their ability to reproduce, and as objects for the male to ogle, Chicago is focusing on the bare roots of femininity, and is giving power to the female voice. She's validating the female, and saying its ok to to be female, its empowering to be female. She's also throwing a question out to society, why aren't women allowed the same social and political power as is allowed men. The color and the style of it is probably relating to Georgia O'Keefe's own work.
Context: Before the twenty first century and even still today in some places women are important, only because of their reproductive organs, and the ability to make new life. Other than that a woman was considered useless, or an object to be owned, just there to look pretty. Chicago goes against this by showing only the reproductive organ, in an abstract way. She's giving women a power. The juxtaposition of image and text seems almost a random association. However, the text directly relates to the content. This plate is taken from the piece "Dinner Party" by Judy Chicago. While all the plates set at the table had abstract vaginal imagery, what makes this plate truly ironic is that it is the setting for Georgia O'Keefe, a prominent female artist whose paintings of flowers and vegetation from the 1920's and on were often viewed by art critics to be overtly sexual and representative of female genitalia. While O'Keefe denied any sexual imagery in her work, she became an important female artist of her time, and one of the few to be recognized in galleries and museums. O'Keefe has spoken of frustration with the art world to be slow as accepting her as an artist in her own right, and had painted a series of 'masculine' city-scapes in an attempt to make her way into the art world of the time, but ultimately couldn't deny herself the pull to create art that was meaningful to herself as an artist. There has been speculation that her work was sexual in order to appeal to the male dominated art world, and that her denial of it was her way of controlling her paintings and keeping critics at bay.
By writing about politics and sexuality on the setting for this plate, Chicago is showing her knowledge and admiration of O'Keefe's work. It is evident that Chicago knew of her importance in the world of art and art history as a contemporary feminist, and sought to pay homage to O'Keefe as an extraordinary and creative woman.
|Form: Photographs, self portraits of the artist in various settings
and poses. To are black and white and two are colored. The setting of the
photo on the top is an old style, and the figure is lounging back.. The
second from the top, there's a look of fear on her face, and its an asymmetrical
piece. The third photo down is black and white and she is lounging out
looking away from the viewer. The bottom shows a head shot of her in a
city. the look on her face again is scared
Iconography : All self portraits are showing the artist in a stereotypical
roles of women that are in society. They are targeted for a male-gaze.
The look on her face in the bottom and second from top is scared. This
plays into the stereo type that women can't be alone in a big new place,
they need a man to help them along. The second from the bottom shows her
lounging and open for anyone, a man, to take her. The photograph on the
top shows her in old style clothing and an old style setting, it looks
like an old european painting. With all of her photographs, it seems she's
commenting on the female role in society at any time. The pose and look
about her in the first and third photo, shows how women were and in some
cases still are viewed as objects that a man could own. The first photo
could also be a statement on preserving beauty, since she looks much older
than in the rest.
Context: (Taken directly from http://www.williams.edu:803/WCMA/artnet/kids/sherman_info.html )"Cindy Sherman's first photographs, begun in 1977, were small black and white pictures known as the "Untitled Film Still" series. They explored stereotypes of women in films of the 1950's and 1960's. More recently, Cindy Sherman created much larger color photographs re-staging various European portrait paintings of the fifteenth through the early nineteenth centuries. The Williams College Museum of Art's Untitled is one example of the kind of grand and theatrical photos Sherman created which comment on art of the past. Much of this old- master series was done during a stay in Rome, where Cindy Sherman saw many such paintings."
According to Stokstad, in untitled film still #21, ( bottom most picture) she wanted to show herself as a "young innocent apparently recently arrived in the big city" She is trying to show how film and media have portrayed females as helpless, needing a man to take care of them. In an art historical context, she is very much commenting on the 'male gaze'. The woman she represents in each photograph is the paragon of the feminine ideal. Always groomed, seductive and available to be looked upon by the male eye.
Cindy Sherman moved to New York in 1977 and began creating her photographs there. In Stokstad, it is noted that she had said she was "making fun" of the female role models from her childhood as well as engaging in a pure form of play that she had loved while growing up." There has been speculation too that Sherman viewed the role of a female in society to be somewhat of a masquerade, complete with make-up and costumes. In her later works, she abandons her soft, pretty images of femininity and the pictures become more lurid. She started to exaggerate the makeup or dress on her self portraits, and eventually began to just take pictures that were almost abstract, but dealt with 'visceral depictions of vomit, body parts, and grotesque fairy tales.' (www.guggenheimcollection.org) Some feminists argue that this was her way of dealing with the aging process, and what society would view as a loss of 'beauty'. Others' contend that she felt trapped by her label as a feminist, and wanted to escape the confines of a category. Whichever is correct, or even if neither view is, her photographs may have evolved into something deemed not sale-able by the art world, and considered offensive by some, but they still dealt with issues of womanhood, body image, and voyeurism.
|Audrey Flack, "Marilyn", 1977
Form: Oil over acrylic on canvas, photo realism. The piece includes both still-life and portraiture. Looks like a photograph, there are smooth value transitions and the brush work doesn't show. The colors are vibrant. There are many fruit, and other expensive looking possessions. The book in he center has writing on it.
Iconography: This work is a vanitas, a reminder of death. The
composition is arranged to make the viewer think about how fleeting life
is and what those vanities do for you when you're gone. The vanities are
the fruit, the jewelry and the make-up. Fruit and flowers don't last very
long, especially cut open fruit. Make-up and all the other possessions
are only things you use why you're a live to show power, wealth, or beauty.
The various timepieces, like the watch and the hour glass also symbolize
time, as in time running out. According to the artist, " This work
shows Marilyn in transition: She has a touch of softness and innocence,
but a trace of pain in her brow that is not present in the photograph.
On the left is a distorted reflection. The mirror shows Marilyn as ghostlike
and threatened by lipsticks as weapons destroying the living goddess.
A picture of Flack and her brother is in the middle showing Flack's emotional
attachment to the subject and time." (Flack 85-86). There is text on the
book that tells a biography or short story of a time in Marilyn's life.
Let us assume it even happened in some fashion. For it gives a glimpse
as the powder goes on and the mirror comes up of a future artist conceiving
a grand scheme in the illumination of an instant - one could paint oneself
into an instrument of ones will! Noticed my face or hair" - her properties
- " or me....."
Context: This is one of her most famous works, (cda.mrs.umn.edu) "To Flack, Marilyn Monroe represented a deep pain and a deep beauty. She affected both men and women equally, and that is why Flack considers this painting androgynous. (Flack 86). "In terms of feminist works, this is to gain a comment on the male gaze. Marylin Monroe was the absolute ideal of feminine beauty in her time, and even today is revered as a 'sex symbol'. Because of Marilyn's role as a movie star, her early pin-up centerfold for playboy, and the countless photographs taken of her, she was always accessible to the ever-present male eye.
Audrey Flack was born in 1931 and attended Cooper union in the early fifties. According to her biography, she identified herself early on in her career as an Abstract Expressionist, but felt that she had to be "one of the boys" in order to fit in. Further it is stated that while she wasn't treated any differently as a student, she felt that her goal of becoming a professional artist was not taken seriously and that by most other students, visitors and teachers, she was treated as a 'sex object'. She became rebellious in her paintings, and it wasn't until after college that she began to truly pursue photo realism. It may have been her feelings of frustration over her perceived 'sex object' status as a student that pushed her towards photo realism, in an effort to prove her skill. This is, however, only speculation, but it cannot be denied that her paintings are filled with feminine imagery and symbolism.
HUNG LIU American, b. China, 1948
Three Fujins, 1995
oil on canvas, three bird cages 96 x 126 x 12 inches (triptych)
Collection of Ellen and Gerry Sigal, Washington, D.C.
|Form: Oil on canvas, addition of real birdcages. The paint quality
in her work is very thin and washy. The artist uses a lot of turpentine
and allows the pant to drip wherever it wants throughout the process of
painting. Three seated women with fans and real birdcages. The focus is
on the three women in the middle, with not much depth behind them. The
colors are muddy and dark looking.
Iconography: This painting shows three fujins, or concubines. The artist, Hung Liu, took a photograph of these woman and projected it onto a large canvas. From there, she applied the paint directly onto the canvas where the photograph was being shown. What makes this panting different from a mere copy of an old photograph is the symbolism that she infuses into it. Besides adding an occasional bit of color to the clothing and fans, she has also added the bird cages along the bottom, one for each fujin. She uses the creation of space so you are focused only on the figures in the center. Aside from the few bright colors used as accents to show how the dress was, the majority of her colors are dark or muddy, that show a realness and sadness to the piece. The figures faces are mask like to illustrate the roles these women were forced to fill.
Context: What she is very blatantly depicting is the subjugation of the women, basically sex slaves. They are basically beautiful birds, caged and unable to escape their fate as concubines. they are also depicted seated, which is significant because at this time in history, in China, women's feet were bound to signal class. The smaller the feet the more beautiful the woman was considered. the drawback, besides disfiguration, is the inability to walk any distance at any length of time. Again, like a bird with clipped wings, they are kept captive by the very thing which, if left unmolested would allow them to escape. Its ironic how these women are being pampered royally but are still in a basic sense, slaves.
"Born in China in 1948, painter Hung Liu was a high school student when
the Cultural Revolution began. After four years of re-education" as a peasant
worker, she received formal art training in the strict Russian Social Realist
style and produced propaganda art for Mao's new society. Liu emigrated
to the U.S. in 1984. In her work today she comments upon traditional Chinese
society, particularly the subjugation of
HUNG LIU. Five Eunuchs, 1995 oil on canvas, mixed media
70 x 96 x 4 inches Collection of Bernice and Harold Steinbaum, New York
|Form: Oil on canvas, using thin washes of paint, letting it drip through
the painting. There is one central figure placed in the background, with
the emphasis on the figures to the side in the foreground. The artist uses
dark, earth toned colors. There is an addition of cigar boxes in front
of the figures in the front.
Iconography: Hung Liu is making a social and political statement about the emperors court and the subjugation and degradation of the people who were forced to live and work there. Traditionally in paintings the emperor or king would be the biggest most important figure in the piece. Hung Liu makes the eunuchs the general focus by pushing them up to the foreground, making them bigger and pushing the emperor into the faded, unimportant background. The use of dark, earth toned colors gives it a sad and somber feeling, inviting the viewer to experience the humiliation and suffering that the lower classes had to go through. The drips which are a signature of Hung Liu bring about a more somber feeling, and gives it beaten up quality of a worn photograph, which shows their plight even more.
Context: Inspired from an ancient photograph, Hung Liu is making a strong statement about subjugation. A eunuch is a servant who has had their genitals removed in order to emasculate them. This is done so that there is no chance of them becoming aroused. It nullifies any chance of the emperors concubines becoming impregnated by them, and creates an 'ideal' bodyguard. Because they are seen as androgynous, they are also of little threat to the emperor himself. Besides being used as bodyguards, they did all the heavy work around the Forbidden City. While it would seem that this painting is not particularly feminist, in reality it is making a huge statement on how women were viewed. By castrating the men, the emperor had effectively turned them into 'women'. In that social structure, that was as low as one could get. Male babies were, and in some cases still are, much more highly prized than females. To bring a female into a family often meant shame, and if there was already a female child, the new baby was often put to death. The irony of the cigar boxes is two-fold. Besides representing the missing genitals of each man, when the genitals were removed they were kept in jars. When the emperor was overthrown and the eunuchs released from their servitude, they wee given the jars containing their genitals.
Hung Liu I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles 2001
Oil on canvas 80 x 80 inches
|Form: Oil on canvas, thin washes of paint that have been allowed to
drip down through the rest of the painting. Three figures who seem to have
a tenseness in their faces, one of which is blowing bubbles who looks relaxed
and in the moment. The colors are earth toned and not very bright. The
drips are black, thin and pallid.
Iconography: Though it would seem that Hung Liu is portraying a happy scene, it is again a bleak social commentary. In this painting Hung Liu is showing a rare image of a group of peasant men engaging in an activity other than work. It is interesting to note how the men seem to be shielded, almost hiding behind the foliage, and the two men seem to be crouching with a look of guilt or fear on their face as though they know they should be working but cannot resist the moment of freedom afforded them by an activity other than work. The title suggests a sort of psychological wistfulness, it may connotate that for the man who is actually blowing the bubbles, it's the way he would like to see himself, able to live a care-free life where he is forever blowing bubbles.
Context: In communist China, there was little time for play, hard work was a requirement for survival. The overt message of a happy leisure activity is underscored by the reality of the time. The tenseness in the faces, the use of black, thin, pallid looking drips of paint to form the figures suggests the sickness of the communist society they were living in.
Hung Liu Unofficial Portraits (The Bride) 2001
Lithograph with collage, ed. of 30 30 x 30 inches
|Form: A portrait of an asian woman. Lithograph and collage with Chinese
paper cut-outs, with thin washes of paint that have been allowed to drip
through the piece. Despite the bright colors used for the clothing and
head dress, over all the colors are dark and muddy looking.
Iconography: Hung Liu is depicting a portrait of a young bride on her wedding day, using an old anonymous photograph. Even though she's using a technique other than just painting, the artist is still able to capture the intense feelings of apprehension on the young woman's face. The dark colors gives a somber and even sad feeling which seems to echo the look on the woman's face. She is wearing red, which is the traditional color for weddings in many asian customs. Her hair is pulled up into her head-dress, and despite the weight of it, her stature is still erect and watchful. It has been observed by some art historians that she may also be depicting a Japanese war bride, but more than likely it is again a representation of a Chinese bride on her wedding day.
Context: Women, in China, were possessions. Brides were bought and sold, not for their personalities, but for what they could provide their potential husbands in land, dowry, cattle, labor and ability to bear children. It was important in rural China that not only could a woman work in the fields, but also supply her husband with sons to help with labor and carry on the family name. Often, if a woman did not become pregnant, it was considered her fault, even if the male was, in fact, impotent or infertile. If the woman did not satisfactorily produce heirs, she was often beaten and sometimes put to death.