Sunday, May 17, 2009

Robert Colescott ~ Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder and Carrie Mae Weems

Recently I watched a group stand in front of Robert Colescott's Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder. It's huge, probably five by six - perhaps the height of the woman we're all beholding. Who is she? One said a model undressing for the artist. Another commented that's usually something that takes place before the painting session starts. Others took a look at her clothing – the garter belt and stockings, the bare buttocks. And then another person said. What if she's really putting her clothes back on? What is she doing there? Is she a model, is she a prostitute? Questions that Robert Colescott most assuredly wants us to ask and then answer them ourselves. How do we view the female model? Have we objectified the female body? What happens when the model is male? Do we have the same thoughts? What if the male is nude? Is that why men are usually so uncomfortable around paintings like the Portland Art Museum's Gary by Ann Gale. There he is sitting slumped in his chair, the chair where he sat for hours, full frontal. How is that different from paintings of women, either naked or half dressed? The woman in Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder is certainly more provocative. How would she be considered really more different than the women who were Matisse's models? All questions that bring me back to the post about Carrie Mae Weems' portrait of Robert Colescott during Week 9.

It's almost impossible for me to look at the blond in Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder and not think of Weems' portrait of Colescott. What has he done? Why is he standing with his face covered? How is that different than the blond? What role does the artist play? Why is Weems naked in her portrait of Colescott? Is she the artist or is she the model or is she both? What role do we the viewers play in this? Both Colescott and Weems challenge us to think about the female body. Colescott does it with more satire, more humor. But we are expected to think.

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