NEW YORK “Multiply, Identify, Her” — Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Art Forum, 06.02.2018

250 Bowery
May 23 – September 2

This lively exhibition of ten artists contributing portraits, videos, films, and photocollages winds its way around two muses. One of them, the artist Laura Aguilar, who recently died, is nowhere to be seen—her work is not included in the show—but the spirit of her challenging self-portraiture (for some pictures in her 1996 “Nature Series,” Aguilar would fold her enormous body into the shape of a large rock in a landscape) was an explicit inspiration for the curator, Marina Chao, and Aguilar’s sense of identity as necessarily plural, complex, and polyphonic provides a spacious conceptual blueprint, into which all of the works on view can fit.

The other muse, the legendary singer Eartha Kitt, is, by contrast, totally inescapable. You hear her even before you descend the stairs to the gallery where the show is installed, belting out the lyrics to “Angelitos Negros” (Black Little Angels), as part of Mickalene Thomas’s winning eight-channel video installation of the same name, composed in 2016. In Thomas’s work, you see original footage of Kitt performing in 1970 spliced with reenactments by three other women, including Thomas and her girlfriend Racquel Chevremont, all of them mimicking Kitt’s stormy presence to the point of blissful confusion.

“Multiply, Identify, Her” comes nearly forty years after ICP staged its first plausibly feminist show, “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” in 1979, featuring works by Berenice Abbott, Nell Dorr, and Consuelo Kanaga, among others. Chao deserves credit for honoring that ancestral format while assembling such a wildly diverse group, including riveting collages by Geta Brătescu, Wangechi Mutu, Lorna Simpson, and Barbara Hammer, whose layers of self-portraiture (nudes with found X-rays from the series “What You Are Not Supposed to Look At,” 2014) are intense meditations on illness, fragility, age, and—à la Aguilar and Kitt—defiance.