Wendy Vogel on Portia Munson
Within the Nineteen Nineties, Portia Munson’s scatter-art installations hit a collective nerve. Her manic assemblages of secondhand objects—typically organized round a single shade, comparable to pink—critiqued each the politics of consumerism and the replica of gender norms by way of mass-produced objects. Through the years, the stability between feminist and ecological considerations has fluctuated within the work. But this triumphant present set her preoccupations with gender and commodification on equal footing.
The exhibition’s largest set up and namesake, Certain Angel, 2021, is a reducing tackle patriarchal order and female expectations. Classic marriage ceremony clothes cowl a sixteen-foot-long oval desk that’s plagued by cast-off objects tied up with string. The objects are largely feminine figures, a few of that are nude, within the type of little women, cherubs, and saints, together with home goods comparable to cups and cleaning soap dispensers adorned with ladies’s anatomical elements. The set up even has a candle within the form of the Venus of Willendorf. White is the predominant shade: shades of alabaster, porcelain, ivory, and eggshell, accentuated by the sunshine from a wide range of bare-bulbed lamps. All the figures listed below are silenced or blinded by the pernicious white cords that bind them. Among the many bric-a-brac are a handful of Black angels, symbols of female purity and holiness who underscore the suffocating paleness of Munson’s composition.
References to Surrealism abound on this assortment of part-objects, which Munson assembled to create a complete “headless bride.” The buildup of thread evokes Marcel Duchamp’s string set up on the 1942 “First Papers of Surrealism” exhibition, which opened on the Whitelaw Reid Mansion in Manhattan, in addition to Hans Bellmer’s disconcerting pictures of fettered and dismembered dolls. The Surrealist equation between our bodies and meals, in the meantime, is recalled in Munson’s “Serving Trays” sequence, 2021–. In these smaller sculptural installations, pallid feminine figures are sure up and piled onto vintage steel platters, prepared for our consumption.
The present additionally included a number of the artist’s two-dimensional works. The “Purposeful Ladies” sequence, 2018–, made up of fifty graphite drawings, depicts schlocky chauvinistic tchotchkes: Assume memento boob mugs or a nutcracker within the type of a lady’s shapely legs. These monochromatic illustrations mirror the intense inventive labor Munson pours into the choice and therapy of her supplies. On the identical time, the photographs’ seeming innumerability and their virtually scientific rendering converse to the overwhelming monotony and ubiquity of mass manufacturing. In contrast, Munson’s oil-on-linen work of sure collectible figurines lack this Conceptual aptitude. With their Impressionist-inspired floral backdrops, they provide up an excessive amount of folksy attraction however little else.
Essentially the most Instagrammable piece of eye sweet right here, In the present day Will Be AWESOME, 2022, follows within the custom of Munson’s most iconic work: her Pink Mission Desk, which was first proven within the landmark 1994 “Unhealthy Ladies” exhibition on the New Museum in Manhattan. Like Desk, this work assembles lots of of discarded objects in a spread of lightened and sweetened reds. Utilizing a reconfigured secretary cupboard and bar desk because the show equipment, Munson organized dolls, garments, stuffed animals, sleeping masks, free weights, and even a semi-hidden dildo. Hovering atop all of it like a Christmas tree’s star is a headless model sporting a sash emblazoned with the phrase FEMINIST. Munson paired this set up with 13 watercolors of coral-colored lingerie, empty purses, and pretend hair—cheerful however haunting stand-ins for the human physique.
Munson’s pink works are enduring and proceed to generate new meanings. In a recent mild, they critique the explosive manufacturing of disposable junk decor—created for banal events comparable to bachelorette or gender-reveal events—littering the Earth. Munson can also be pointedly commenting on the compatibility of capitalism with the twenty-first-century repackaging of feminism. But beneath all this gleeful chaos, the work possesses an undertone of bleak irony. This previous summer time, which was marked by a rollback of reproductive rights and escalating environmental disaster, the artist’s considerations have been amplified to a deafening quantity.