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Art Review

April 10, 1998|CLAUDINE ISE

Soap Games: Yolande Macias McKay uses soap to sculpt sleek male nudes and replicas of games like Twister, Sorry and Monopoly. Buoyed by a sly sense of humor, McKay's sculptures mock outdated Modernist truisms about aesthetic purity, which she links to current cultural obsessions with sanitized cleanliness and rigidly enforced codes of personal hygiene. McKay has been poking at this Greenbergian straw man for a while now, and in an exhibition of new work at Richard Heller Gallery, she continues to shadow-box ideas that disappeared from the arena long ago.

McKay's reinterpretations of childhood game boards as pliable geometric abstractions are anything but cool, crisp and hard. No clean lines either: "Panoply" (1998), a Monopoly board without any of the street names, bulges impolitely from the middle like a swollen belly or an after-dinner belch; in the next room, a replica of Twister lies flaccid on the floor, like a soggy bathmat.

In the show's best piece, 50 doll-sized, somewhat androgynous male figures in various shades of blue dangle helplessly from a row of nails. Titled "Blue Boys" (1977-1978), they provide visual puns on male sexual frustration (think cold showers), while their diminutive size and waxy sheen suggests the accommodating plasticity of sex toys. These tiny blue youths lined up unevenly against the white wall also offer a cheeky retort to the way Yves Klein used nude female bodies as "living paintbrushes" by dipping them in his signature blue color.

For all their frothy fun, McKay's sculptures only skim the surface of soap's more disturbing connotations with ethnic cleansing, racial purity and sanitized sexuality. McKay is well aware that cleanliness can be a powerful symbol of cultural oppression and social control, but she needs to probe these connections even further if she wants her work to have real staying power.

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* Richard Heller Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-9191, through April 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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