Libby Black’s sixth solo show, “Timeless,” demonstrates the artist’s savoir faire for constructing and reproducing exclusive commodities using only acrylic paper and a hot glue gun. Her eye is both masterful and deceptive when it comes to mimicking the aesthetic--inspired by Stephen Sprouse--of luggage pieces and hatboxes of brand names that include Prada, Hermes, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. In the paper reconstruction of iconic pieces, Black reflects on and parodies the fragility of designer brands. The items that we readily purchase and identify with as consumers can also be constructed, broken down and proven to be as fleeting as a piece of, well, decorated paper. As she re-presents these commodities in new ways, we notice that the use value of the material goods that Black draws inspiration from changes. They begin as having a utilitarian value that is heightened by their exclusivity in high end stores, and abetted by being replicated in the gallery setting where they are re-consumed solely as an art object. “Timeless” includes Black’s familiar sculpture works, but is truly characterized by the works on paper, gouache and canvas.
Black also reproduces several Vogue beauty covers from the 1940’s and 50’s in the form of gouaches on paper. The early pages of Vogue are demonstrative of Black’s sphere of influence, her acknowledgment of the history of fashion and her desire for her work to be a part of it. The pages inspired by Vogue depict a woman whose body is contorted in the “V” shape of the publication’s title. The alternate panel shows a woman’s wrist with manicured red nails adjusting a watch that is said to be a perfect gift for Christmas. In her “Vogue Beauty Issue” she depicts the same model three times in a rotational view.
Although Black’s work is implicit of an erudite student of fashion history, subtleties in her work suggest that she is playing with the power of the gaze, a seminal focus of critic John Berger. The “Vogue Beauty Issue,” along with “Watching You,” inspired by the outlandish photographs of American fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, summon questions of who begets the power of the gaze. “SS V. Westwood” portrays a woman hiding behind a canvas while her eyes are cut out in a perfect silhouette. An insertion of a cartoon-like phallus creeps beneath the space between the canvas and her undergarment. Has the gaze, which was traditionally assigned to the male, been re-appropriated to the female, who now literally holds the frame of her canvas in her hand and looks at us behind the guise of the canvas? Suggested here is the idea that when it comes to the infatuation with objects and beauty, the role has been seemingly reversed. Women consume objects both banal and erotic at will, such as a pair of Prada shoes, and they take inventory of these. Women are no longer objects to be consumed; rather they consume the objects of their desires.
In “Mentorship,” a work of pencil on paper, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat are shown as an example of the “importance of mentorship” because “achieving success without the mentor is a lifelong career in the city.” Although Warhol helped to launch Basquiat’s career, his Factory was a continued inspiration for fashion. Warhol also understood the significance in reproducing an image over and over on his “assembly line” and creating works whose subjects, such as Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Brillo Pads, were found on the aisle of most supermarkets. Through the medium of the silkscreen Warhol was able to appropriate items that played a role in everyday life. Similarly, through Black’s meticulous construction of time honored brands like Hermes and her memorization of the distinct typography and color coding of each brand, she appropriates the items that we diurnally consume much as Warhol did. Despite the differences that characterize their art practice, Black shares with Warhol the belief that if an image or brand is reproduced enough times, said brand will not only consume our attention, but inevitably define our identity.
Published courtesy of ArtScene ©2009