Shattering the illusion of the effortless beauty, elegance, and frivolity surrounding the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show, New York-based painter and sculptor Rachel Feinstein’s current exhibition at Gagosian Gallery Beverly Hills centers around The Secrets, eight lingerie-wearing figurative sculptures made of wood, epoxy resin, foam, and clay referencing this much-anticipated fashion extravaganza’s angel-like supermodels.
With Secret’s focus on fashion, the female form, and sensuality, the viewer expects these sculptures to showcase an idealized silhouette, yet one will find no classical curves or toned, tanned bodies here. Instead, these pieces are presented as disfigured and unfinished, with visible chunks of bulging and melting clay as well as inexact, patchy neon colors painted on their limbs and faces. Obviously created with little heed to realism or formal sophistication, The Secrets seem to be embodying a particular sense of excess and overabundance, with their loud, garish costumes and accessories clamoring for the viewer’s attention. Dressed as butterflies, bandleaders, and snow queens, these models are seen awkwardly posing for the crowd and stumbling on their heels. Similarly, the fashion show’s centerpiece, a million-dollar bra covered in gems, is rendered as a knotted mess. Even the sizes of the sculptures are disorganized and incoherent.
With their vibrant hues, playful suggestiveness, and decadent, cotton candy-like aesthetic, The Secrets were greatly inspired by Rococo painting and sculpture. However, instead of the elegance and refinement typically found in the artwork of this period, Feinstein’s forms feature a gritty, amateurish feel. They are bodies in conflict with their own use, revolting against image standards imposed by their context.
Further exploring themes of romance, desire, and luxury, Secrets also boasts a series of brand-new, largely black and white paintings portraying both contemporary and historical depictions of luxury in the same space. In 2018’s The Lake House, an oil enamel on mirror image, we see a stereotypical “McMansion” with a fountain and expensive cars parked in the driveway. Meanwhile, the work’s foreground features a collection of wealthy Renaissance-era figures dressed in their fineries. We see lovers holding hands, children playing, and a woman rowing a boat while a male figure strums a lyre. In its sister piece, 2018’s Scences de Jardins, we are treated to another ostentatious and palatial estate. This time, Marie Antoinette-esque Rococo figures cavort in the expansive and luxurious backyard.
Bringing history to life, Feinstein works at a recognition that this lavishness and worship of all things material is not a new phenomenon. She ties her work, and her subject matter, to an indulgence in excess that has extended itself over centuries. Seeing these pre-French Revolution elites romp and play amidst our modern landscape creates a poignant image, one gets the sense that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The artist’s work is on view through February 17th.
— E. Nimptsch
Rachel Feinstein: Secrets [Gagosian Gallery]