In the 1956 film High Society, the female lead played by Grace Kelly swims in a classic white bathing suit while her fiancé delivers these lines to her:
There’s a beautiful purity about you, like a statue to be worshiped.
But I don’t want to be worshiped, I want to be loved.
And he quips back:
Well, that goes without saying, but I also want you up on a pedestal where you belong, where I can look up and adore you.
Bad Posture, an exhibition by artist Luciana Pinchiero, traverses the dynamics between the corporeal and the sculptural in relation to the female body––the vicissitudes of objecthood and subjecthood, of being worshiped and loved.
Two Greco-Roman myths are central in Bad Posture –– Pygmalion and The Corinthian Maid ––, art-creation myths that act in tandem and as inversions of one another. Pygmalion encapsulates a patriarchal gaze, he sculpts the form of the ideal woman, and via Aphrodite’s magic, the sculpture animates into a woman for him to love. The Corinthian Maid, a more curious and mysterious story, is of a woman who renders her lover’s shadow on the wall as a keepsake while he’s away. These two myths have been regarded by many as the origin of drawing, painting, and sculpture; Regnault’s paintings of them are titled, The Origin of Painting (for The Corinthian Maid) and The Origin of Sculpture (for the story of Pygmalion). The stories have been rendered repeatedly throughout art history to meditate on art making and desire––Pinchiero continues this tradition with collage, while focusing on the form of sculpture and the body––their divergences and merging.
The central installation, the titular Bad Posture, features a 14ft plinth that six cut out figures occupy. Three of the figures are digital prints of classical statuary, Venus de Milo, Venus de Capua, and the Wounded Amazon. The other three figures in Bad Posture are from a life model book, The Human Figure: A Photographic Reference for Artists. They stretch, bend, and hold poses like the sculptures. Stillness from the models and life-like sculpted flesh conflate.
The Venus’ are thought to be replicas of lost Aphrodite sculptures by the Greek sculptor Lysippus. The lesser-known Wounded Amazon is a Roman replica of a Greek bronze original. That even the original source images in Bad Posture are also replicas themselves brings depth to the politics of authorship and authenticity that the artist plays with, skewing our cultural reliance on any original, or any origin story.
Venus de Capua is positioned as standing on a helmet, and although not present in the sculpture, her arm rises to hold the shield of the god Ares, where the goddess gazes at herself in a mirror. The gaze embedded is a vital aspect of the exhibition, and this is reflected in how Pinchiero handles monuments and monumentality within her works. The plinth hosting the cut outs in Bad Posture mimics the pedestal for monuments, for artworks, a stage for performers, and for women, the cage-like elevation we are placed on to be viewed.
Pinchiero takes the vast, monumental genre of the female nude under consideration in her art historical evaluations, going back to how the figure is rendered and how monuments are made by reflecting on the living bodies that went into the making. Beauty as Verb is her interpretation of Pygmalion, encapsulating the violence inherent in that myth, the hammer and chisel on the female figure.
Her consistent utilization of classical statuary and figure drawing models has to do with the investigation into the act of making; she creates these works with an unabating inquiry into how images are constructed, and how gender is constructed from and alongside these images. It becomes difficult to tell which way likeness is captured, much in the same way it’s not possible to pinpoint an original; is it the bodies mirroring the sculptures, or the sculptures being modeled after the posed women? Of course, the answer is both, and as a queer artist this ambiguity is fundamental. We move away from essentialism, from purity of identity, and realize we have all been spliced together with flesh, sculpture, images from film, from what we see in public space––it’s important to mention that all of the images of monuments come from Buenos Aires, the capital city of the artist’s country of origin; they are monuments she’s interacted with, and that have profoundly shaped Argentina.
Al Borde de unas Valvas Moluscas is a collage of a fountain monument from Buenos Aires and an art model; the figures in the sculpture stretch out to reach the art model as she gazes outward towards the audience. We think of the live woman who inspired the sculptural forms and the mortality of bodies as contrasting with monuments and sculpture’s impetus to last beyond our bodies, from the intimacy of the studio to the public space. Nereidas is a collage of La Fuente Monumental Las Nereidas in Buenos Aires by Argentine sculptor Lola Mora paired with a woman in a pink bathing suit basking in the fountain. Lola Mora, who lived between 1866 – 1936, is a fascinating icon herself and another obsession of the artist.
There is a preoccupation with the past in the works, none of the sources feature AI mash ups or twitchy TikTok glitches, which suggests that the remix culture of identification is nothing new. Pinchiero’s more monolithic content––monuments and an exploration of ‘classic beauty’––meditates on an enduring power, there is a whiff of authoritarianism in the content of these works, and the artist’s desire to opt out. The flattening of these bodies and sculptures, even in Pinchiero’s sculptural works, are a way to subvert the power of form and get back to the linear shape of things–– a Corinthian Maid-esque move to simplify to dissect the complexities of how women are regarded, and how art is made to enforce this binary.
In Top a nude model scales a monument. This work recalls all the direct actions that have taken place around and to monuments around the world, especially in recent years. When we tune into the actions and the bodies that surround, invent, and alter monuments, we see how power shifts over time. There’s also a humorous aspect to Top, and in many of these collages, a silliness that seeks to topple the reverence we have towards art history and monuments, a desire to top them, to turn the table on submission with the power and humor of sexuality. Nude women lounging on, and scaling monuments is an expression of Saturnalian rebellion with sapphic flair. There’s even a wonderful nod to the absurd, as the butt naked lady ascends the stone statue.
There is an inherently queer aspect to collage as a medium, and in Pinchiero’s work an explicit merging of object and subject, in which we all become things, our identities and presentations mutable, able to be cut and pasted. And even with her historic lens, this is presented as playful and sexy. There’s an overtly lesbian charge to many of the collages, in particular Sitting and Lying, where sculptures and women have a sexual charge between them, their own private relationships.
One of the heroines of the exhibition and in much of Pinchiero’s work is Greta Garbo. The old Hollywood star who is infamous for her (private) sapphic sexuality, and for her command over her (public) presentation on screen. Garbo was aware of the importance of being lit correctly to accentuate her features, she had agency over her face and form while she was regarded as an icon, her face turned to sculpture on the silver screen. Monument to The Gretas transforms a monument in Buenos Aires into a monument to Garbo with cut outs of the actress from three different films. The artist constructs her statuesque fantasy to the lesbian icon, remaking what may be considered monumental.
Posturing is the deceptive performances we engage in to make others think we are more successful, more put together, tougher, or even more feminine than we really are. What’s the deception in Bad Posture? Is it sculpture’s ability to transform stone into flesh? The fissures of authorship? The desire to make a woman, including the self, into one’s own?
Pinchiero doesn’t focus on subjecthood as a simple way out of objectification (the art models aren’t images of subjecthood), but rather lays out a wide swath of objecthood within the realms of art making––sculpture, monuments, storytelling, collage, and filmmaking––where we all merge with representation and objects. The Line she Traced, a series of works, embodies The Corinthian Maid. The artist splices her reference materials––stills from old Hollywood, monuments and art models with dark shadows and figures cut out of a cool fountain blue. The cuts and slices offer an agency while also distancing the artist’s hand, which in art history has been largely deified to convey singular truth. The relational aspect of artmaking, that between the artist and the object, is central in Bad Posture, and with that, a refreshing refusal of authorship––the infamous sculptures that aren’t originals, the face of Garbo becomes a mask, the models who enact sculptural forms become them.
Text by Jillian McManemin