First of all, kudos to Margaret Meehan and Women and Their Work! Meehan is the only artist that utilized the space effectively that I have witnessed over the past year. Now…..on to the art.
As a virgin to Margaret Meehan’s Work, this “review” is more so a recapping of a very interesting conversation I had at Dog and Duck with a group of grad students, installation crew members, artists and a few other random people from Austin. Of course, we all began with how much we liked the work and of course there was the one person who “didn’t get it”. I’m always wary of the person that “didn’t get it”. And I’m more wary of the person (typically the same person) that refuses to read any material on the artist(s) because “the art should speak for itself”. Well….that’s true to an extent however you always learn something from reading about the artist. After everyone ordered their drinks and grabbed a picnic bench outside, I found myself in the middle of a very interesting conversation where multiple thoughts were flying out like bats at Congress bridge.
Thought No.1: Why was the woman in white? Was she commenting on purity? Or European Beauty??
In this portion of the conversation, a few of the ladies were taken aback by the use of white in the show. They believed the work was commenting on race and exalting the European Standard of Beauty. These ladies focused more so on the color and its connotations versus the hypertrichosis, boxing gloves, and Victorian dress. On the flip side, I saw Meehan questioning white and the idea of purity. It never crossed my mind that she was exalting European Beauty. I saw the work technically beautiful but not “white is beautiful!”. I posed the question “If you feel white is commenting on European Beauty, was she [Meehan] using black to comment on black or African beauty? I found their reaction and overall lack of ability to comment on “black beauty” interesting. Meehan used white glitter and a TON of black glitter. So was she saying, “Black is beautiful”? After they were unable to answer the last question, I posed another: “Is it possible to use colors such as black and white and not comment on race?” They all answered in unison, “no”.
Thought No.2: Was she suppose to “get under my skin”?
Obviously she succeeded! She raised every question that she possibly could concerning beauty and race. When associating Meehan with Matthew Barney, I think they [my Dog and Duck posse] expected to be disgusted by gruesome images and of course they were disappointed. Personally, why would you want to view art that looked like someone else?
Thought3:The ropes were an after thought! I saw it as Matthew Barney meets Kara Walker meets Ellen Gallagher??
I can see why they thought the black boxing ropes were an afterthought, but I had to disagree. Meehan utilized the upper right corner of the gallery, by attaching the ropes from one wall to the other consequently roping off the corner. The ropes also complimented the opposing lower left hand corner that housed the glittered black boxing bag and hanging light bulbs. I found the ropes, The drawings and the glittered punching bags to be the most effective pieces. Meehan took strong, “manly” objects and transformed them into the epitome of Victorian delicacy and decoration and (lack of a better word) girly.
The photography, on the other hand, seemed to be a completely different body of work in comparison to the other works. They were all connected thematically and conceptually, however they felt like they were a completely different show. The photography lacked the hard edge that the other artworks retained regardless of the copious amounts of glitter and beauty. The photographs appear much like a visual narrative beginning with a pristine ethereal bearded woman that later goes through a brawl. Although the figure was bleeding it had a different type of beauty to her that was not shared by the other works. Maybe it was the extreme use of white in contrast to all the black, but I’m not sure I’m buying that either. I think, they were 2 different bodies of work…. Good bodies of work but different nonetheless.
Lastly, I understood why my fellow Dos Equis drinkers associated Meehan with Walker, Gallagher and Barney. Walker and Gallagher are also female artists using the contrasting colors black and white to comment on beauty and race. Meehan’s drawings “The Barnburners” are very reminiscent of Gallagher’s etchings “DeLuxe”. Her Victorian motif and medical anomalies are aligned with Walker and Barney’s work. The association of Meehan’s work to these artists are strictly on a surface level, but that’s inevitable.
I enjoyed the show. As I said before, Meehan is the only artist I’ve seen so far use the space at women and their work effectively. People navigated throughout the small gallery comfortably and were able to focus on the work and socialize. All in all, Meehan’s show is a success. Although there were many thoughts that circulated at Dog and Duck over a few pitcher of beer, they were all questions that I believe Meehan intended to raise.