Hunters and Hustlers: Feminism and Theatricality in Suzy Spence and Heather Morgan
February 15, 2018 - Wen Tao
A major element of early feminist art criticism came down to detective work. Outing the male gaze in paintings of female subjects was akin to using black light to reveal traces of blood at a crime scene. Form, facture and viewpoint served as evidence in a forensic process – manifestations of objectification, voyeurism and idealization were exposed.
Nowadays, the crime scene is complicated, especially where female authorship is concerned. In paintings of women by women, thanks to a sense of intimate self-knowledge, what has begun to emerge are emphatic – indeed, empathetic – attempts to maneuver the inherent theatricality of being subjected to the gazed. The subject can become complicit and resigned to being a displayed object, or lay out an elaborate performative trap in which the unaware spectator devours the bait. Two current shows present different but equally intriguing examples of such maneuvering: Suzy Spence’s A Night Among the Horses, ongoing at Sears Peyton Gallery in Chelsea, and Heather Morgan’s Heavenly Creatures, at David Schweitzer Gallery, last month, in Bushwick.