Home Architect Bean Gilsdorf on Bonnie Lucas

Bean Gilsdorf on Bonnie Lucas

by godlove4241
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Born in 1950, at the height of the baby boom, Bonnie Lucas developed a feminist aesthetic that was undoubtedly influenced by sugary depictions of post-war domestic life alongside the spectacular rise of mass-produced goods. Just as plastics manufacturing has shifted from military supplies to household items, the millions of children born into this generation have created a new consumer base for trinkets, gadgets and toys. Such a story, which mixes the tender with the artificial, manifests itself through this abbreviated retrospective of the artist’s work, “Bonnie Lucas: 1978-2023”, at the ILY2 gallery. The show opened with the melancholy Untitled, 1978-1979, a seventeen-by-thirteen-inch collage featuring cream-colored polyester threads and shiny threads circling shiny pieces of sewing room wreckage. In shades of pearl, pink, peach, red, mint and baby blue, scattered seed beads, sequins, buttons, sequins and ribbon snippets are accompanied by a fragment of an embroidered tag that once read MADE SPECIALY FOR YOU, a pre-made item that housewives sewed to their handmade clothes. The delicate, repetitive lines of threads that radiate outward from each object suggest that these household cast-offs are indeed valuable, even valuable.

About seven years later, however, that sweetness is curdling. In white rock, 1986, Lucas uses a child’s satin-lined baby blanket as a substrate for a lumpy assemblage of knitted pink garments, lace collars, loofah mittens, white gloves, safety pins, alphabet-print shoelaces , knitting needles and an assortment of plastic toys . At the center of this profusion is a cloth doll with bonnet, face down, spread eagle, and tightly bound with gold cords and lengths of faux pearls. The poor man is exhibited in a fetishistic manner in front of a transparent blouse like a sacrificial offering. The doll’s cotton dress is pulled up from behind and, tucked between her legs, is a fist-sized Easter egg decorated with a family of cheerfully heterosexual ducks. Above this unsettling scene, a voluptuous cartoon bathing in beauty winks and ogles the viewer. The title of this work is taken from the label on the blouse, but the garment in no way replaces maternal help; the scoop neckline of the top reveals an ugly tangle of pastel embroidery threads. From across the gallery, the bubble-gum hues of the artwork looked pleasingly delicate. Yet in this chilling and violent tableau, they are anything but.

When sentimental, stereotypically feminine aesthetics intersect with cheapness, we call it kitsch. But to use this designation for Lucas’ art would be to overlook how cleverly he wrestles with the disposableness of women. There is no evidence of irony in Angel, 2018, for example – a framed composition full of tacky elements that takes its title from the gold letters dazzling a T-shirt in the room. Likewise, Pretty in pink2018, in which a plastic baseball bat printed with Disney Princesses rises from the neck of a child-sized lilac satin qipao, shows no ironic flippancy. Rather, the items in the dime store signify the connection between the value of a girl’s life and the second-rate tat that both traps and represents her.

At about twelve by nine inches, New York Princess, 2023, exemplifies Lucas’ skill at evoking the tensions and pathos linking certain aspects of gender and class. Elasticated gathers and ruffles of blue and mint fabrics enclose an almond-shaped shape – reminiscent of a matron’s panties or a frilly-lipped vagina – stuffed with a muddle of shoddy pink booty. Allusive objects – sequined flowers, floral fabric, molded doll’s leg, keepsake keychain – suggest that the feminine is nothing more than a two-bit commodity. At the same time, the work’s careful layering and deftly ingenious composition underscore a sense of appreciation and value. Although these girly things look cheap, Lucas turns them into something absolutely priceless.

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