What’s in and what’s not in the sake of feminism and porn; while art comes first. Expressionist artist Serge Strosberg is storming the East Village with a bucket full of thought provoking paint and adventurous portraiture at Studio 26 Gallery.
The light of a red flickering neon casts its promises over the pavement of 3rd Street in the old manner of the European red-light districts of De Wallen or the Quartier Pigalle in Amsterdam and Paris. However the exhibition curated by Marika Maiorova at Studio 26 Gallery on 3rd Street doesn’t sell sexual favors, but a whole different set of displays: Girlsgirlsgirls.
This is the time of political correctness ruining college education, sacrificing subjects and objective debates on the altar of the subjective sentiment and the capricious discrimination of the so called “offensive”. The media openly censors art calling it “racy” as it has recently occurred with Rupi Kaur’s “period photo,” Gustave Courbet’s “L’Origine du Monde,” the $170 Millions “Reclining Nude” of Amedeo Modigliani, or even the record smashing “Women of Algiers“ by Picasso. We live in a nipple free social media where more and more the policies converge to the least common denominator of the benign and anodyne.
Girlsgirlsgirls revolts against it decisively opening a new conversation about sextremism of fifth wave feminism and the libertarian success of the golden age of American pornography. Serge Strosberg’s paintings have the ability of connecting the sex-positive feminism of Camile Paglia and the second wave feminism with the fifth wave feminism of Femen or Pussy Riot. That’s how Behind the Green Door, a classic of those X films of the seventies, meets the activist and founder of FEMEN, Alexandra Shevchenko. The painting presents an accurate reproduction of the film cover, where the face of the main actress gets superimposed by a portrait of Alexandra Shevchenko in the act of protesting, shouting and holding a sign half naked. Serge Strosberg refers to pornography but porn itself is not there, it’s present but you don’t see it. The exhibition plays on words and images offering an amusing debate on the limits of empowerment and objectualization, and on the limits of the ideal and the material presence.
Serge Strosberg is a painter educated in the prestigious Academie Julian in Paris, versed in the complexities of Anatomy and devoted to a special blend of realism and expressionism, inspired by the German expressionists such as Egon Schiele and Otto Dix, and more recently by the painters of the School of London such as Lucian Freud with whom he had the opportunity of exhibiting in two occasions. Strogsberg’s credentials are extensive. He was the recipient of the Jan Cockx Prize given by The Director of Muhka (Museum of Contemporary Art of Antwerp) and has works in the collections of The Shanghai Himalayas Art Museum and The Felix Nussbaum Museum (Germany). But his credentials reside primarily in his paintings.
The exhibition’s highlights are Strosberg’s large painting where those early pornographic cult movie covers are disrupted by FEMEN leaders and masked activists from the Pussy Riot. Behind the comedic title “Sexcula” hides an ambiguous interpretation of Pussy Riot’s masks as BDSM (bondage, dominance and submission, sadomasochism) and one of the most remarkable examples of what curator Marika Maiorova calls “adventurous portraiture”: inserted in the tridimensional trump l’oeil of the original cover, proudly stands Irina Shevchenko (Alexandra’s sister and president of FEMEN) raising her fist as a symbol of solidarity and support, unity and strength. Her gesture is one of confident serenity, ready but not excited, with an expressive opened glance to a far future, like the masters used to, instead of a near present.
Hot Lips, which portraits Olga Strosberg, model muse and Serge’s wife, who can be also recognized in Debbie Does Dallas and Deep Throat; comes with a glass showcase full of red lips and colorful riot masks for the public’s enjoyment.
This exhibition aims at an immersive experience: amusing, thoughtful, and diverse by means of figurative painting, Richard Prince like text paintings, installations, performances, and video art. Once you pass the threshold of the red neon, you enter an adult DVD store of feministic imagery, with its film racks full of miniaturized prints of the larger paintings that fill the walls, glass showcases where the toys rest, and screens where Serge Strosberg pays a video of his creation combining feminist protests and adult but moderately explicit scenery. “It’d be probably rated beyond R” confessed Marika Maiorova.
It’s been also programmed for the gallery to be rioted by the New York based performance art collective Legacy Fatale on Thursday night. This federation of Amazon Warriors will come to Studio 26 Gallery to recruit a contemporary army of women, they won’t take prisoners, and it’s not clear whether or not Gender-Queer Anarchist Mia Kunter will join them.
The whole exhibition is taking the provocation of feminist protests and pornography, one step further by challenging the spectator to confront the contradictions and connections of both movements, golden age libertarian pornography and fifth wave feminism.
Hillary Clinton as the flag bearer of feminism in this presidential campaign has confirmed her generous attendance on Thursday or Friday afternoon. I’m looking forward to seeing her approach to this deeply satirical experience.
– Manuel Pardo