Margaret Curtis: This, too. is on view in the Street Gallery through November 9, 2024

Heidi Jensen: Sit Comfortably in a Darkened Room and Think of Nothing

Mar 22, 2019 – May 4, 2019

Heidi Jensen, Girlie, Gouache, Charcoal & Pastel on Khadi Paper, 30 x 22 in.

In Claude Cahun’s monologue “Helen the Rebel”, the narrative of Helen of Troy is reimagined and retold. Rather than existing as a passive object of desire, Cahun’s Helen collaborates with her husband Menelaus to orchestrate the Trojan War. Her renowned beauty is the result of a training process. Helen relates instructions from Menelaus on how to become beautiful: “. . . sit comfortably in a darkened room and think of nothing. Just that, every day, for a few minutes – gradually and indefinitely increasing the time”. The work in this exhibition casts an oblique eye at subjects homely and humble, extravagant and decorative.

Jensen’s drawings present objects designed to fit or complement the body, as tool or adornment. They carry references to territories of the feminine, the decorative and the domestic. The neck ruffs and brushes share a degree of ambiguity. The elaborate neck ruffs may be perceived as feminine, though they were worn historically by both women and men. They are a display of unrepentant excess and ornamentation. In contrast, the brushes and dusters are consigned to a role of service and they wallow in the dust. These anthropomorphic forms hover between male and female, they contain tongue-in-cheek references to physical anatomy.

Jensen’s recent drawings circle back to objects the artist thinks of as hyperfeminine. The subjects are from the collection of the Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City: fans, collars, jabots, bows. When drawn, they regain the vitality and intensity of color they may have had when first created and used. The drawings pay respect to these things that women made and carried, objects that defined and displayed ideas of femininity. Jensen’s personal reaction to them, however, is one of estrangement. She finds these subjects to be simultaneously seductive, alien and fussy. There is an attempt, in her work, that seems to submerge and emerge, to wrestle with and stretch the boundaries of the feminine into a new shape.

Supported by ZAP, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts, and Grandeur Peak Global Advisors.