It has been no easy task reconciling the heritage of the canonized female form which has been reenforced throughout the centuries long history of western art. This is especially true in very recent history, where the relationship between women and the gender roles customarily assigned to them, especially sexuality and femininity as a whole, have been questioned and tested. For example, the reclining venus pose, like the Venus of Urbino by the Renaissance master Titian, has since the Greco-Roman era been the model for a female nude. However, this depiction is severely dated in that it turns the female form into an object which exists to be admired, it turns the woman who occupies this pose into a coy, inactive figure who is resourceless save for her sexuality. Many contemporary artists have wrestled with how to comment on and to overcome this heritage, and have sought to reintroduce the female nude into the timeline of Western art in a way which depicts women for what they are- capable and worthy members of the human race. As is always the case, each artist is independent in their vision of how to achieve these objectives. In a
solo show entitled NU which opened last Thursday at the DOOSAN Gallery in Chelsea*, Yunsung Lee, a 31 year old Korean artist, made a provocative statement on the issue of female representation in Western art. Lee states that as a series NU is meant to explore western art forms and modes of expression as reinterpreted through the lens of Japanese animation. His large-scale paintings are brightly colored and the dominant subject matter is the female nude; Lee paints hypersexualized female forms where their breasts and backsides are graciously rotund but their bellies and waists are disproportionately trim. He has made their skin to look as shiny as if it were made of rubber or porcelain. Each figure wears an expression of surprise and pain on their elven faces, perhaps because, weirdly enough, most are missing arms and legs, a fact which is accentuated by the fuchsia hued blood which gushes out of these open wounds. It is, admittedly, a strange, conflicting take on the issue of female representation in art. The exaggerated features of the females Lee paints can be interpreted as his statement on how outrageous these features would be on any real woman. These features call to mind Ingres’ Grande Odalisque, and the impossible length of
her back as it sweeps across the canvas. In both the Grande Odalisque and Lee’s paintings, the women depicted cease to exist, only the tantalizing absurdity of their features are meant to hold the attention of the viewer. The difference between the two is that, unlike Ingres, Lee uses these features as a means of calling attention to their absurdity. It is difficult to adjust to the overtness of Lee’s artwork, and it does take some time to acclimate to not only his aggressive style but egregious treatment of subject matter. However it is commendable that Lee is bold and unflinching in his statement, and he is successful in that the means by which he makes this statement demand attention.
*Yunsung Lee’s solo show NU
Is on view at the DOOSAN Gallery, 533 W 25th St,
From May 19th to June 23rd