this is not a chair

ruth marten makes really smart artworks drawing on antique etchings.  i mean that figuratively — in that her work is inspired by the imagery of the old prints she gets in flea markets — as well as that she literally uses ink and watercolors to alter the found engravings.

marten currently has an exhibition in the new york gallery.    my favorite piece is a group of six prints she got from a parisian book stall.  they were probably from a portfolio that victorians used to select their drawing room furnishings — the 19th century equivalent of browsing the dwr website.

in each fussy seat, marten poses a woman’s disengaged body part.  not bloody lumps of flesh, mind you,  but bejeweled, well-coiffed, lipsticked and elegantly accessorized features.

her prowess makes it nearly impossible to determine where the archival material leaves off and her imaginings begin.  her talent lies in intuitively taking clues from the original artwork, to twist it delightfully.

i love the way the corner of the mouth, otherwise rendered realistically, playfully flips up and over.  this is not a mouth — but a representation of a mouth.   perhaps the coy smile is due to the abundance of male attention evidenced by the calling cards?

marten’s art is often about fashion, feminine beauty and and desire.

in this work, she associates archaic images used for displaying objects with depictions of attributes that conventionally make a woman attractive.   one of the things this work might be about is objectification of women.   you know, that “teeth like pearls” and “eyes like pools of water” bullshit.  is marten’s message that a woman is not an object?  that she’s more than the the sum of her attractive features?

or, perhaps, that women used to be satisfied with shopping, redecorating or taking a new lover when they were dissatisfied with their lives.   now they can also choose to have collagen injections, color their hair and have their noses done…

ruth marten’s solo exhibition, “strange bedfellows,” is up in my new york gallery — 531 west 36th street at 10th avenue — through 16 june.

photos all by anastasia vasilakis –