at Elga Wimmer PCC
in the Chelsea 26th area
This event has ended - (2012-10-04 - 2012-10-30)
Irony and awe, fascination and manipulation, the gorgeous and the grotesque are all terms conjured by the paintings of Zhijie Wang, inspired by anime, on view at Elga Wimmer PCC. Curated by Thalia Vrachopoulos, these ultra chic images of women made in an oriental rendition of the Barbie Doll, seem harmless. Yet girls depicted as resembling morphed human-like toys are rarely free of underlying rage. Here, beauty and calculation go hand in hand in a consensual collaboration bound in a male fantasy. In these paintings, the Chinese tradition in art of identifying women by their roles rather than by their individual character or personality, is played on and satirized to make a contemporary point. Now conformity is centered on fashion savvy.
While Western women have “broken out” of stereotyped roles to assume an increasingly daring social equality with men, gender is still an issue that remains hot in the East. The oriental aversion to displays of nudity directs the artists’ focus to the model’s faces. For the most part, the model’s seductive appeal is achieved primarily with the eyes, while the outfits play an important role as well. Whether the figures are posed looking sideways or straight on, the eyes are the predominant feature. The huge, enlarged heads resemble Pekinese dogs with flattened rounded faces and heads. This underground parallel transforms the girls in the viewer’s subconscious into pets, which purportedly don’t threaten the “inner” little boys of the men they encounter. The exaggerated character of each feature mocks reality while it establishes the fact that too much of a good thing produces bizarre compelling deformities. These caricatures produce the opposite of the desired effect. The itsy-bitsy ski-jump noses are mockingly tiny. The perfect rose bud lips are too round, too rose colored, and too moist looking. The gigantic heads, accentuated by plucked super thin eyebrows set high on the forehead, stray far from naturalistic beauty. These calculated pictures hint at seething male discomfort, in which feelings of attraction-repulsion simmer.
These images seem to explore issues of why adorable women, so seductively darling, are designed solely to seduce men. The pictures elicit questions on the existence of justice in the scheme of creation. Why do women naturally hold such sway over males? We know that nature is designed this way. The round heads set in rondos acquire a quasi-religious context, as if they are meant to be objects of veneration. The ancient Chinese did not allow women to appear in public. In their art, they submerged women in traditional roles, thereby exercising some control over their threat to male domination. Even when women’s natural beauty is bent almost totally out of shape, it still seems to hold enticement for the modern male.
Each piece portrays cuteness with sexy accessories including army hats, fashion handbags, cigarettes, over-the-top eye makeup, backpacks, and strapless gowns. What is a man to do? Downplaying attractiveness by the cunning strategy of making eye forms and heads overly large is a way of controlling the influence held by the object of desire. These paintings testify to the fact that this strategy isn’t working. The cartoon-like females continue to mesmerize the viewer with their outlandish disfigurations. There seems to be no escape from the polar male-female scheme of natural attraction.
The artist plays especially with eye make-up; eyeliner, mascara, and eye shadow serve as expressive elements that vary the look of each painting. “Girl No. 16” seen with eyes closed, singing into a microphone, is especially satirical. By numbering the titles, the artist focuses on the conformity of the modern female, whose lack of individuality parallels ancient Chinese role dominated art practices. The smooth pictorial finish and the mostly cool palette lend the works a highly sophisticated unified aura. The girls resemble saucy insects ready to sting. They embody danger and desirability, a lethal mix of potentially erotic promise. In keeping with Chinese tradition, their bodies are not displayed; they rely on facial expressions, hairdos, and deep direct eye contact to seduce and betray in the appealing way employed by babies, little girls and foxy seductresses. Gays and women are often drawn to men in uniforms. Worn by young girls, military head gear suggests potential aggression with a special appeal, as seen in “Girl No. 4” and “Girl # 5.”
Wang’s humorous playful portrayals of little babes who know how to make use of their prerogatives express nostalgia for a time when women were basically excluded from more serious pursuits in society. Their role was to be pretty and sexy, to appeal to men, period (think Stepford Wives). Women who shop, and go to lunch now occupy a small minority in a population of competent ambitious energetic workingwomen. Wang, a top Chinese animation artist before he became a painter, skillfully blends his mastery of animation with consummate painting techniques to render his imaginative visions in seamlessly stylized, flawlessly rendered works. The artist appears to tip his hat to the tactics employed by girls whose staged fashion gear presents an overt sexual message. Wang takes a tongue in cheek view of the antics he observes in today’s young women. He is amused, he gets it, but he maintains some critical concerns with this limited female focus.