Go See – New York: Laurel Nakadate ‘Only the Lonely’ at MOMA P.S. 1 through August 8th, 2011

February 7th, 2011

Laurel Nakadate, Exorcism in January (2009). Via New York Times

But, is she exploitative? This has been the defining question of Laurel Nakadate’s roughly decade long, hotly discussed career. Nakadate is primarily known for her infamous early videos in which she invited herself into the homes of the single, middle-aged men that approached her in public, bringing her video camera and a scenario that tested the limits of the new relationship. In one Nakadate plays dead while the men play ‘doctor’ and in another they pretend it’s her birthday, singing and eating cake. Some venture further—one sees Nakadate and the participant play a stripping game, the artist taking off articles of clothing one by one, matched by a man in his 50s, moles covering his back. Nakadate’s work in-variously produces the same chain of reactions from critics: first, is this a safe practice? How did the artist know she would remain safe? The threat of violence is a common concern for the artist, which some argue lessens the effect of her work. After viewing one of Nakadate’s videos for a few minutes, it becomes clear the men she works with are docile. Then, the second question is almost always: is she laughing at them?

Only the Lonely, Installation view. Via P.S. 1

More text and images after the jump…

Laurel Nakadate, Don’t you want somebody to love you? (2006). Via Leslie Tonkonow Artworks

Only the Lonely, Nakadate’s early-career retrospective at P.S. 1, which shows most of her work to date, illustrates the artist’s interest in questions of exploitation, but complicates the idea that she is purely exploiting her actors. In Exorcism in January, a new work from 2009, Nakadate rolls around on the floor of a man’s apartment while he chants, in an attempt to exorcise both of their loneliness. The video is compelling not least because the man is one who appears frequently in the artist’s work and it is clear that their dynamic in Exorcism has fundamentally shifted from Nakadate’s earlier experiments. Instead of the viewer (and presumably Nakadate) waiting for what the stranger will do, Exorcism asks what will they do, as Nakadate takes on an equivalent role to her actor. It becomes believable that Nakadate is lonely too, as we see her engage in a performance of desperation with an old accomplice.

Laurel Nakadate, Lucky Tiger #1 (2009). Via New York Times

The exhibition has received incredibly disparate reviews, with critics either praising Nakadate’s power plays as ruminations on loneliness in modern life or panning her as a self-objectifier. Karen Rosenberg of the New York Times criticizes Nakadate for “reeking of exploitation: hers, theirs, and ours.” Most interesting in this observation is the “ours,” as much of Nakadate’s press showcases the misogyny still rampant surrounding female artists. Nakadate is consistently spoken of as a vixen, a tease, a provocateur, instead of an artist with an agenda. Nakadate’s work is perhaps most interesting in its exploitation of the viewer, illustrating how the public wants to see women artists.

Laurel Nakadate, The Wolf Knife, still (2010). Via New York Times

Laurel Nakadate, portrait from 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears (2010-2011). Via New York Times

-E.C. Feiss

Related Links:

Laurel Nakadate, Pickup Artist [Village Voice]
A Provocateur Who Talks To Strangers [New York Times]
Art in Review [New York Times]
The Crybaby: Laurel Nakadate’s Edgy Elegy at P.S.1 [Observer]