Untitled: "Engender" at Kohn Gallery: 8 Artists on How Gender Functions in Their Work

November 11, 2017 – January 13, 2018
Kohn Gallery
1227 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles

Gender is a constantly shifting, mutating, and expanding concept. How do you tackle something constantly in flux, shifting in perceptions and expectations? A few recent exhibitions have seen the art world take on gender, particularly “Trigger: Gender as a Weapon and as a Tool” at the New Museum. The show, while rife with extraordinary works by a number of intriguing young and veteran artists, was ultimately over-curated and included a number of pieces that felt off-theme. “Engender,” Kohn Gallery’s upcoming group exhibition, is a much more intimate entry point into gender-based discourse in contemporary art. Curated by Joshua Friedman, the show features 17 artists who challenge binarized representations of gender as specifically male or female.

Narrowing the exhibition’s focus, Friedman chose artists working with paint to distort gender dynamics. Why? Because unlike video and photography, mediums used as purveyors of gender discourse early in their emergences in the art world, painting as a medium has historically reinforced the gender binary. By working in painting, the artists featured in Kohn’s latest show contend with centuries of art history and infuse it with contemporary notions of gender fluidity. With works by both well-established (Nicole Eisenman, Sadie Laska) and fast-rising emerging artists (Tschabalala Self, Jonathan Lyndon Chase), “Engender” uses the most ancient of fine art forms to ignite pertinent discourse. Artist and writer Adam Lehrer photographed and spoke to eight of the artists included in the show about gender politics and how they manifest in their work. 

Brooklyn-based artist Heidi Hahn paints women but eschews explicit or erotic representation of her female subjects in favor of a nuanced perspective that allows viewers to understand what it means to be a woman in 2017. The New York Times has compared Hahn’s work to artists ranging from old masters like Edvard Munch to modern masters like Lisa Yuskavage, indicating that Hahn’s primary subject matter is the representation of women across painting history, period. Unlike most representations of women in painting, which sees them subdued and passive, Hahn portrays women across the spectrum of emotional states. In addition to her work being included in “Engender,” Hahn is represented by Jack Hanley Gallery, where she had a solo exhibition in 2016.

“I have been representing the female body for a long time in my work. Using the idea of femininity in a way that’s not totally represented in the erotic or art historical terms was reconstructing what it meant to be a woman. I’m using the mundane of every day actions, showing them and expressing them, I’m showing the personality of subjects more than I’m just depicting a body. When Josh told me he was doing an exhibition about different modes of human bodily representation and different representations of the human form, being a very traditional painter there’s nothing bionic or so far out there about using the body in that way. I was interested in playing with subtle gestures that denote empowerment and feminist political ideals. I realized I could dictate how women are seen.”

“The women are always clothed. They are in conversation with their persona, which might not be the viewer. The women in the painting aren’t looking out or interacting with the viewer. It’s not a provocation, it’s not a viewer. I don’t want to think about sexuality or being feminine as an explicit sexuality. I think of it more as a person. These are just people. And I choose to paint women because I’m a woman so I can relate. It’s a personal give and take that I feel close to in the work. I feel like, before these issues, I’m a formalist painter. I’m concerned with how painting functions upon a surface. How does the materiality inform the content? Foremost, these are paintings about painting. The content is a way to reach out and give that message. There is an empowerment and idealization of what it is to be a woman. My subjects are kind of the same woman over and over. An amalgam of me, my girlfriend, my mom and my sisters, and all those personas, and they all become stand-ins for a woman. They are, in a way, the same kind of generic form.”



November 7, 2017