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June 17th, 2009 12:00 am RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts

Lesbian Art Show At Fontanelle

Two artists put up a mirror to sapphic identity.


To title an exhibition Lesbian Art Show requires either temerity or naiveté. Azsa West and Mary McAllister, the lesbian couple behind this collaborative effort, have plenty of both. To mount a show under the wide rubric of sexual identity implies an ambition that this show lacks, but there is ample humor and self-effacement here. Ithas the feel of a coming-of-age narrative, with pieces such as A Map Mostly About Opinions scrawled with diary-style confessions of early infatuations, heartbreaks and epiphanies. In A Map Portraying Lesbian Sex Sexuality, idea clusters enumerate phenomena near and dear to the lesbian heart as experienced by West and McAllister: cats, house-music remixes of Cher anthems, disco balls, sex toys, knives and epithets reclaimed from the precipice of hate: “Trophy Dyke,” “Art Fag,” “Carpet Muncher.”

In the gallery’s center, the interactive installation The Well of Loneliness (a collaboration between McAllister and Aubree Bernier-Clarke) takes the form of a one-person saloon, where one pours a shot of whiskey and contemplates oneself in a gilded mirror, surrounded by portraits of the English poet and “sexual invert” Radclyffe Hall. The piece is an exercise in self-examination but also calls out “the lesbian community’s…high rates of alcoholism.” This darker tone is a welcome among the show’s more sophomoric preoccupations. That intensity is echoed in West’s ironically named Progress—a collage where a snail morphs into an arm, which mutates into a doily with pouty red lips, which then terminates in a similar doily, this time adorned with eye-shaped flickers. The relationship of feminism and lesbianism seems implicit: the snail’s-pace advancement of female equality in a chauvinist world, crawling from sexualized appendage to sexualized mouth, finally “evolving” into a creature with eyes but no face. “You’ve come a long way, baby,” Virginia Slims advertisements used to say. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

SEE: Lesbian Art Show at Fontanelle, 205 SW Pine St., 274-7668. Closes June 27.
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