by Louisa Levenson / Feb.13.2019
I’m the newest docent at VisArts, and new to twenty-ﬁrst century art. Although I’m learning about innovative ventures in art technique at VisArts, I’ve been a docent before, and I’ve always respected artistic creativity. I’m thrilled to be part of the VisArts community; I love the ambiance of this unique art center. The excitement of the four contemporary art galleries and the joy of knowledge shared by staff, volunteers, curators, and artists are wonderful and contagious.
I’m particularly enthralled by the newest exhibition at VisArts, Frame & Frequency: Fantastic Bodies, curated by assistant curator, Frank McCauley. Entering the Concourse Gallery, I see and hear a stunning array of videos. They’re along the walls, popping out at me, in my face! In the center of the gallery, McCauley has installed eight video screens with headsets, silent until taken; it’s there that I discover my favorite piece in the collection.
Deborah Kelly’s Lying Women begins quietly and innocently. Venus is alone; Titian’s sixteenth-century masterpiece is nude and calm in her repose. Contemporary women’s hands come into view. They’re cutting up art books, making collages of the images, pulling out portraits of some of the most iconic nudes in the history of European art painted by Goya, Delacroix, Manet, and Gaugin – along with multiple copies of Titian’s Venus. The slashing ends and the nudes come to life – swaying, dancing, and twirling, still one-dimensional but nevertheless suddenly, impossibly alive! Kelly sets a suggestive, staccato, handclapping beat to the sensual sighs of the women. They’ve been set free, after centuries of confinement to canvas and gilded frames, to live fully. Listening closely, deep in the background, I hear a baby cry. The women have come full circle – moans of passion leading to the wails of a newborn.
The video ends with Venus, alone once more. Yet now her eyes are wide open, no longer closed as they have been throughout centuries. She looks directly at me, fully awake and aware, beautiful blue eyes blinking twice.
Kelly’s Lying Women is a clever, creative piece that speaks volumes about the limitless power of fierce, free women – as a group, as a sexual force, to give life, to control their lives, and to enjoy their lives. It is stunning to view, to hear, and to experience.