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Review: Rachel Lachowicz gives gender roles an intriguing makeover

November 14, 2013|By Sharon Mizota
  • Rachel Lachowicz's "Particle Dispersion: Hex Triplet Pink," 2013, Plexiglas case with eyeshadow.
Rachel Lachowicz's "Particle Dispersion: Hex Triplet Pink,"… (Gene Ogami / Shoshana Wayne…)

In her latest exhibition at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Rachel Lachowicz continues her exploration of gender roles in an unusual medium: makeup.

That choice is an unavoidable statement about gender, like Janine Antoni painting the floor with her hair dipped in Clairol, or the fact that knitting and embroidery — now ubiquitous in museums and galleries — still carry connotations of “women’s work.”

Lachowicz’s challenge is to do something interesting with a medium that comes with so much baggage. For the most part she succeeds, although at times the work can be formulaic.

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The Santa Monica artist uses small, square cakes of eye shadow like mosaic tiles to create “paintings” of text and scientific phenomena. The text works, executed in a Baldessarian, sign-painter style, are perhaps a bit glib. One, a riot of colors, declares, “TRUE COLORS,” even though makeup is anything but.

Another uses shades of black, white and gray to encourage us to recombine the letters in “CONTEXT IS QUEEN” in various ways. (“Conque” is apparently some kind of software plug-in as well as a Spanish-language conjunction. Who knew?) I suppose the work feminizes the notion that context is everything, although I found it puzzling.

The show gets more intriguing when Lachowicz tackles the male-dominated field of science. “Quantum Dot with Two Electrons” is an image of a red and yellow oblong shape enclosing two white-hot centers against a flat black background. The collision of quantum physics, in which particles may occupy multiple locations at once, and makeup, in which things are often not as they seem, creates a provocative parallel between two disparate worlds.  

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Lachowicz also takes on geology in a series of sculptures. Arrayed across the floor in the main gallery are several large, angular, Plexiglas boxes. Tinted in neon colors, they are filled with eye shadow, this time in its loose, powder form. The sculptures resemble geodes, crystals or perhaps even gems (a girl’s best friend?), but are patently artificial, like cartoon versions of rocks. Still, their powdery innards remind us that most pigments are minerals: Why shouldn’t the rocks get a makeover?

Finally, Lachowicz turns her eye to astronomy. “Cosmos” is a richly illustrated map of constellations and planets labeled with words like “evolve” and “post-gender.” It’s corny and a tad simplistic, but its heart is in the right place, suggesting a remapping of relationships and definitions.

It’s intriguing to see this theme explored within the somewhat limited commercial palette of makeup, which has not always been a feminist’s friend.

Yet Lachowicz has created a space in which former opposites are held in tension: natural and artificial, female and male. Like electrons, they might trade places, or better yet, occupy the same space at the same time. And putting on makeup might not be just an artful, conformist lie but an evolution of sorts.

Shoshana Wayne, 2525 Michigan Ave., B1, Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through Dec. 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.shoshanawayne.com

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