My Gender-ation!

Pinned, Stitched, and Glitzed: Challenging Gender Stereotypes
The Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery, John Jay College, NYC
September 9 - November 13, 2015

The exhibition entitled "Pinned, Stitched and Glitzed: Challenging Gender Stereotypes," on view at the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explores mixed media in imagery that injects refreshing diversity to an art scene steeped in minimal art, conceptual art, and the enduring New York School. Curated by Thalia Vrachopoulos the show attempts to deconstruct the traditional female gender identification with the finely crafted handwork. The artists on view employ creative methods that transgresses the social expectation that dainty, precise art is the province of women while bold powerful art is reserved for men, including trans-gender and gay men. The show focuses on a variety of wall works and paintings comprised of cumulative segments that contribute to the final unified work. Renee Magnanti, Eozen Agopian, Maria Karametou, Ran Hwang, and Nicholas Moore create art that ranges from abstract wall pieces constructed with pins, buttons, bobby pins, woven and sewn textiles, to figurative paintings with glitter and objects affixed. This extravagant mix of ingenious, skillfully rendered media infuses the show with a jolt of creative inspiration that subtly challenges the usual expected stereotypes.

Renee Magnanti's stately woven paper yarn and intaglio print textile works incorporate written descriptions of the activities and accomplishments of women from a variety of cultural backgrounds and geographic locations. The text is deftly integrated in complicated zones of colored fringe and threaded fabric, sewn in repeated vertical ethnic patterns that hint at universal non-representational origins. She highlights Irish lace makers from the 1880s, indentured slave Peruvian Incas, Koreans making "Pojagi," a quilt-like textile pattern, and minority Miao Chinese who embellish their costumes with embroidery. Magnanti photographs original museum fabrics that she elaborates, using textile books for inspiration. The artist plans to expand the piece by adding strips that feature new groups of women’s images, which will eventually fill a room.

In her new body of work, Greek abstract painter Eozen Agopian creates loosely constructed hand-stitched works on canvas (image above), in collage-like compositions where threads and textile fragments are bunched, streamed and pulled to form high relief on the flat canvas formats. Her free unstructured method of application debunks the supposition of meticulous female handwork. Agopian’s majestic large-scale wall hanging of numerous overlapping and adjoining fabric remnants gives the surprising impression of a harmoniously composed abstract painting. Without crossing the line into pure craft, her work hints at 19th century American women quilt makers. The artist’s subdued palette seems characteristic of the slightly somber shades one sees typically worn by traditional Greek women. Her art conveys an aura of composed sorrow that one might experience while watching a Greek tragedy. The current overwhelming economic crisis must weigh heavily in the life of all Greek citizens.

Maria Karametou's imposing abstract wall works (image top), comprised of thousands of ordinary gold colored bobby pins, are exquisite compilations, methodically crafted. The metal plates recall the regal armor worn for royal defense in ancient battles. The demanding handwork spotlights skill, patience and perseverance: these pieces took several years to complete. The consuming repetition that the works required hints at terrifying underpinnings. The bobby pins may symbolize soldiers who have fought and fallen in wartime, while the martial armor theme hints at the need for self-protection, hence survival. These ingenious works spark the imagination with thoughts that span history, to allude to the mythic travails that warriors from the region experienced in the Trojan War.

Ran Hwang (paintings above) constructs powerful wall pieces with thousands of buttons pinned on wooden formats to forge the image of a large plum blossom, or of a gigantic spider. In Chinese lore, the plum blossom, one of the "Three Friends of Winter," is said to embody good luck and longevity, as the blossom sprouts from seemingly decaying branches. Her plum blossom, pierced by rigid mechanically spaced steel pins, suggests that the beauty and life of nature are diminished and encroached on by the advance of industry and technology. Spiders are typically linked to the goddesses of the moon who are believed to control human fate. Hwang engages themes from the natural world that are transported by their materials into another more oblique realm of visual and tactile sensation. Her art presents a fluctuating reality rather than a solid mass, an ephemeral three-dimensional configuration that recalls her Buddhist philosophical background, where the world is regarded as steeped in illusion. Hwang’s repetitive creative process becomes a form of personal meditation.

Nicholas Moore explores issues of identity, individuality, gender and trans-gender with complex layers of glitz, glitter, letters and objects in sympathetic well-crafted paintings. The characters in his portraits and the images of couples exude an aura of wellbeing, peace and contentment; they look happy. Perhaps gays and especially trans-genders dress extravagantly in an effort to mask the experience of the pain, fear and confusion that accompanies their acceptance of their true identity, outright in the world. Or perhaps they are simply happy to declare themselves to be who they are.

The premise of the show is to break traditional social and cultural gender stereotyping, to make apparent that the designation of refined handwork as solely the domain of woman no longer applies. Here Agopian, for instance, employs a less careful, less "finished" approach that demonstrates a more casual application, which might previously have been attributed to the male sex. Karametou's focus on armor as a theme in her choice of charged metal bobby pins puts a surprising twist on her oeuvre that could indicate the work of either sex. Although Moore works carefully, applying glitter with a successful degree of precision, his paintings display no hint to indicate whether they are the product of either the male or the female sex. Here male and female traits overlap in art that is nothing if not an impressive, diverting and engaging glimpse of the complexities inherent in the societal fabric of contemporary life. - Mary Hrbacek

Mary Hrbacek has been writing reviews of NY art exhibitions since 1999; she has covered shows in almost every museum in town.