There is a notion within certain segments of the contemporary art community that in order to be 'serious' a contemporary artist must bleed their work dry of any hint of wit. That humour is somehow a sign of weakness and that poe faced gravitas, at all times, is the only sure fire indicator of heavy weight sagacity.
This is a notion of such literal minded stupidity it beggars belief. It seems to me that only a mind blinded by its own desperate craving for acceptance could possibly entertain the concept that the conscious performance of seriousness and seriousness itself are one and the same thing. In actual fact there is nothing more profound than hilarity because only a joke can hold the tragedy of life. Only a joke can mirror society's ridiculousness back at itself without invoking its rage.
Legend has it that when Sadie Hennessy was studying at Central St Martin's in 2010 it was suggested to her by her tutors that her work would be improved if she removed the humour from it. Thank god she had the wit to give that lamentable advice the finger. Because her first solo show with WW Gallery is embalmed in wit. And it is brilliant.
Humour is also - I'd like to point out to the great burghers of Central St Martin's - a tool that's been claimed and re-claimed by feminist artists for the last fifty years. VALIE EXPORT, Margaret Harrison, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Sylvie Fleury, The Guerrilla Girls, Sarah Lucas, Sarah Maple, Mel Brimfield, even Tracey Emin, have all engaged humour to make a space for themselves that simply wouldn't have existed otherwise. So I think it's safe to say that Ms Hennessy is working within a tradition.
If female sexuality is slowly, slowly beginning to emerge from the dark cave of it's own taboo (Caitlin Moran talking about her first wank without alienating her entire public was a great right of passage for that one) the one thing that without a doubt remains universally horrifying is the sexuality of older women. It might be just about ok for a 23 year old girl to be a sexually empowered entity but by 63 or 53 or even 43, she's expected to have become dormant. We don't mind a sex kitten but nobody's interested in the cat.
Sadie Hennessy tackles this issue with elegance in her sculptural assemblage Big Night Out (2012) a zimmer frame 'wearing' a pair of black sequined ankle-wedge boots and with a black sequined heart shaped handbag hanging over the top of the frame. It speaks to the invisibility of the older lady and the fact that if she's not invisiblised altogether, she is, at the very least, desexualised. Too old to be virgin or whore, she becomes mother / grandmother / crone. As one ages it seems one's life can be expected to progress from one cardboard cliché to the next. Big Night Out reveals the humanity of this older lady, her vulnerability. The absolute universalism of wanting to be loved. There's not a man or woman alive who can't relate to that.
Also good is the Lost Art of Keeping A Secret (Porn Star Eyes) series of cut outs, in which porn star eyes are collaged onto fresh, smily faced 1950s beauties. Reminiscent of one of my favourite artists, the pioneering photomontagist and early feminist Hannah Hoch, these works are laugh out loud funny on first viewing but, as with much of Hennessy's work, gradually expose a melancholic underbelly as the viewer lingers. Both the porn star and the fresh faced beauty come to seem trapped within the performativity of the societal roles they each have necessarily embraced.
After Sadie Hennessy I went across town to another Sadie. Ms Coles has just opened John Currin's lastest show. If anyone should question why Sadie Hennessy feels she needs to be so outré in the conveyance of her feelings about female sexuality and female objectification in this age of supposed equality and respect I would suggest they might try the same. What John Currin seems to be getting away with in 2012 in the name of art is frankly totter inducing. Has fifty years of feminist art history by-passed the man or does he simply not care? Oh for the day when the sort of shit he's producing is taboo and Ms Hennessy is commanding his prices. Then we'll be able to talk about equality without having to laugh our arses off in the process.
written for Spoonfed
written for Spoonfed