Saturday, February 26, 2011

Laurel Nakadate at PS1


It has been ever thus: men, especially those of a certain age, become unhinged at the sight of a young woman in her underwear. We know and accept this, always with the hope, however, that this derangement won't interfere with their professionalism. Compared with how Monica Lewinsky and her thong affected history, an art exhibition is a minor event—yet Klaus Biesenbach, who organized  Laurel Nakadate’s “Only the Lonely” at PS 1 (through August 8) and Ken Johnson who reviewed it enthusiastically in yesterday’s Times (but is still wondering if Christian Marclay’s brilliant  The Clock could be just a “stunt,” see post below), might have considered that they were not thinking entirely with their heads.
            While she also exhibited videos (such as one I found particularly mean-spirited, of herself dancing like Britney Spears in front of desperately lonely men), most annoying is 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears (2010), where Nakadate worked up a state of sadness for a portion of each day, and then photographed herself—posing in her undies and often topless—before, after or during the shedding of supposedly real tears.  Johnson asks, sensibly enough, “Since she is a fit and attractive woman in her mid-30s who has an M.F.A. from Yale and is now enjoying this retrospective, you might wonder what she has to be so lachrymose about,“ but then backtracks by saying, “A more sympathetic view is that she has been tapping into a river of grief and loneliness running under the surface of American life.” Now there’s a sentence that begs for amplification and justification: just what “river of grief and loneliness” is Johnson talking about anyway? And why the requirement to be sympathetic?
            In her work, this poor girl who has so much she must force herself to feel unhappy every day, makes a mockery of real sadness.  While writing this I’ve been talking with a good friend whose aunt just died, and who is attempting to comfort his beloved 92-year-old grandparents. Do we want to see the pictures? Try glamorizing that scenario.
            Despite its weak theme, the installation is impressive: framed in white and hung gallery-style in symmetrical rows that march toward an archway, these richly colored photographs turn the high-ceilinged rooms into a semblance of a Renaissance palace, streamlined for the 21st century. What’s really sad is that without Nakadate moping in them, most of the images could stand on their own. It’s pathetic that, given the times, artists feel the necessity to overlay perfectly good photography with art school conceits. Plus, whatever happened to subtlety? There are more evocative ways to convey sadness than the cliché of someone in tears.
            The other really sad part is that if Nakadate were to have made herself happy every day, the results might actually have been interesting—but “happy,” unfortunately, is not very arty.
            My conclusion is that this girl needs a job! Her next “performance” should be one where she photographs herself 365 days a year working in a convenience store. Marina Abramovic she is not.


Installation view, Laurel Nakadate "Only the Lonely," courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, PS1.

19 comments:

Mike said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great opinionated review. I don't understand how this artist gets so much positive press or a solo show at PS1.

Anonymous said...

A good question is.....why does so much art look a lot like soft porn? Next question....maybe I should start inserting some sexy skin into my work...
(just kidding, -- not really!)
AP

Carol Diehl said...

You could insert sexy skin because you'd do it so much better. I'm actually not opposed to soft porn, as long as it isn't pretending to be something else.

But wait, it just occurred to me...perhaps this is an attempt to conflate two careers, lingerie model and conceptual artist, or maybe she's crying because she doesn't have any clothes, in which case, I'd be sad too! Maybe we should start a drive...

Anonymous said...

You are on fire with this review. I agree, 365 days of documented happiness could possibly be way more intriguing, and throw a nice wrench in this pseudo depressive drama Laurel Nakadate is playing out.
~the other "anonymous"

Anonymous said...

I read the review in the Times and have been thinking pretty much along the lines of what you wrote. Exhibitionism is OK in art but I do wonder about someone this callow and her motives.. I can't see the show ( not in NY) so enjoyed reading your review.

wylie Goodman said...

Love it Carol! In this day and age to have a woman photograph herself au natural is so far from radical as to be laughable. Yes, she's turning the camera on herself, okay, but she's still depicting (and not very ironically) the same familiar images of women that grace the covers of magazines in any subway station. The fact that she also holds the camera gives them only in the smallest of ways any more supposed "power."

Anonymous said...

Laurel Nakadate admits to having a "safe" upbringing in Iowa...so no bad childhood for her to draw tears from there. She also admits to faking the sadness in her 365 piece in this SF Gate article:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2011%2F02%2F17%2FMV2S1HMTDJ.DTL
I wonder if her sadness was real, if that would have made a difference in the overall piece?

Katharine said...

Interesting that the Lynda Benglis show is up at the same time. Laurel is a poor version of Lynda's groundbreaking work, ie. her ad in ArtForum years ago.

Kathy Hodge said...

You said it perfectly, and put a smile on my face as I read it first thing this morning from my cubicle. Maybe she should spend a year in a cubicle and document the stultifying effects of padded walls and computer monitors. Wouldn't do to get naked though.

martha miller said...

brings to mind the old threat: stop that crying or i'll give you something to REALLY cry about!

Anonymous said...

When I read about Laurel Nakadate, I had just finished reading an amazing book "Orange is the New Black" written by a Smith grad, Piper Kerman, who ended up spending a year in prison in her early 30's for a dumb moment helping her drug runner girlfriend when she was in her early 20's. And she spoke so smartly and eloquently about women who leave prison and have no where to go except a homeless shelter ( having lost all parental rights to their children). Reasons to cry? You bet. There are real reasons to cry and I bet those women dont' want to strip and then be photographed when facing their real reasons.

Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

I think she needed sadness as her gimmick -I mean concept, sorry- because in reality she probably just feels the overwhelming need for attention and needed something, anything, as a handle. As do most young ambitious artists. Seems pretty transparent. Not to mention a hi-budget version of the requisite exhibitionist found in every art school program around the world.
The real sadness will come when she has to be 'sad' in order to maintain her brand. "Oh, right, you're that chick who's really sad, I know you."

natebet said...

Oh my God, Thank You. An essay I wrote on this show for a class I am taking at Parsons was entitled "self obsessed & sexy" and thats really all I saw hear. I think your description of "mean spirited is spot on.

Anonymous said...

you ask why this girl gets attention? Well look at the people escorting her to art parties and hyping her: dirty old men, like Gregory Crewdson, rick moody and Jerry Saltz, who confuse her luscious limbs with the meaningful. Once she passes 35 she'll be on the bottom of the barrel. nice review by the way.

Joshua Williams said...

Very talented girl, I admire her works

Anonymous said...

This show is probably the worst thing I've ever seen at PS1. I hope she fades away soon... there is obviously a lot of money and influence being used to push her along. The NYC galleries are the driving force behind museum curation. I can't see any other reason to put this show on.

Melanie Avids said...

I walked in the wrong door and read nothing about the "365 Days" part of the exhibit, and didn't mind it until I read the details and put in context with the rest of her work displayed. People keep asking why she's faking sorrow - why is she faking SEXY sorrow? Not only is this a mockery of sorrow by forcing it, who strips down and gets into porn poses to express grief? This is a gross exhibit. It does express the loneliness she wants to express, but mostly the artist's f'd up idea of "lonely means needing people to know how sexy I am".

The other parts of the show were awful - or great because I almost never have such a visceral reaction. The sexy pin up pose pictures that she invited a group of men from craigslist to handle & get fingerprints on looked good, but the process is egomaniacal and unkind. All the skits and photos she forced upon older lonely looking men seemed egomaniacal and unkind. Who does that to people? And why is her need to be the sexy focus of sexual tension and attention so great that she has to force it upon the most vulnerable men AND THEN on gallery viewers?

I'm really sorry I went to this exhibit alone. I desperately needed someone to talk with afterwards.

woogin said...

Whether or not the sadness is real is one issue, but you seem to take issue with the very fact that Laurel Nakadate is sad. Assuming that her sadness is genuine, why is it necessary to "rank" sadness? Because other people have suffered more, do we have to force ourselves not to be sad? I should never feel sad about something because someone somewhere else has a worse tragedy? I despise this kind of thinking, and anyone who thinks that way is most likely a hypocrite. Do you mean to tell me that you never feel sad, for no particular reason (or for reasons not quite as dramatic as a loved one's death?) That you have never found yourself crying, and you don't know why? I highly doubt it.