The Vivisector: Group show curated by Todd Levin, Sprüth Magers, London
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Tuesday 27 November 2012
A naked doll with long synthetic hair greets the visitor to this inspired exhibition, which explores "the idea of opening up and exposing a living body".
She has the pert proportions of a Barbie, but she is two and half feet tall and endowed with the sickly anatomical correctness of a real femme-enfant, or woman-child, as the Surrealists termed their ideal muse.
The eroticisation of girlishness is both a staple of tabloid culture and a source of intense moral outrage. It has long been a fetish for artists – particularly male artists – seeking to create and/or provoke. Here the allure of the feminine dummy is investigated.
Untitled (Standing Girl) (c.1950-60) is the work of American outsider artist Morton Bartlett, who spent a significant part of his life making these eerie figures in private. His oeuvre was only discovered after his death in 1992.
He has been perceived as a Humbert Humbert with a Neverland complex (he was orphaned aged 8) and hailed as a genius in the Surrealist tradition. Many of his mise-en-scenes possess the same jarring, not-quite-right quality as the work of American conceptual photographer Cindy Sherman.
Following her blockbuster retrospective at MoMA in New York this year, curator Todd Levin has focused on two of Sherman’s series: Sex Pictures (1989-92) and Broken Dolls (1999). Both are exceptional in the sense that Sherman herself is absent from the pictures.
Sherman, 58, has become an icon for assuming an array of uncanny personas, often drawing on feminine archetypes, such as the fading starlet or the Hamptons hostess. Here she substitutes her own image for grotesque arrangements of prosthetic limbs and disembodied genitalia, on the one hand, and sexually mutilated still-lifes of dolls, on the other.
These photographs are graphic, but their horror is contained by a kind of aesthetic deadness. They look like the remains of a game played by a sadistic child. One black and white image shows a doll with its mouth eaten away, besieged by a forest of hands. The Sex Pictures, a response to the AIDS epidemic, show the body hacked up and truncated, compelled into positions of abuse.
Bringing together disparate works from art history, Levin manages to illuminate the rich theme of the doll without descending into kitsch. Hans Bellmer and Georges Bataille are included, while Jacques Offenbach’s The Doll Song, from his opera The Tales of Hoffman, plays dementedly in the background.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 3 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 4 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
- 5 Cristiano Ronaldo storms out of interview after being asked about possible sale of Manchester United target Sergio Ramos
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts