Genesis Belanger & Emily Mae Smith

Perrotin New York is proud to announce an exhibition of new work by Brooklyn-based sculptor Genesis Belanger and Brooklyn-based painter Emily Mae Smith. Though the two have exhibited together before, never has their work been engaged in such close dialogue as it is on the occasion of their show at Perrotin. The exhibition presents a call and response between disciplines and a fruitful discussion of shared themes. Emily Mae Smith’s paintings are realized with photorealistic rigor. Their content, however, bears little relation to the ‘real.’ They tend, instead, towards a kind of Surrealism where a displacement of references is the operative strategy. In an ongoing series, an anthropomorphic broom figure, reminiscent of the bewitched worker from Fantasia (1940), stands in for a would-be female figure. She has appeared both as artist—touting a brush and easel on the cover of art magazines—and subject, a surrogate figure in reimaginings of well-known paintings. As the broom has recurred, its role has varied greatly as has the discourse generated around it, though commentary on the strictures of art and the art world has persisted. With this versatile avatar, Smith is able to critique the accepted role of women in art as subject and artist, before and behind the canvas. The broom, a cleaning implement first and foremost, engages a feminist critique around gender and labor in the domestic sphere and the stratified world of art. In Genesis Belanger’s work, a similar surrogacy of the body takes place, as objects, finely sculpted in ceramic and tinted in fondant hues, take on human features. A lamp sprouts an arm. A pink candy bowl grows teeth. These recognizable objects are made uncomfortably familiar as they begin to resemble us. The effect of Belanger’s work is uncanny, as it tows the line between comfort and disquiet, the beautiful and the strange. The confusion of bodies with domestic detritus is not tacit acceptance of gendered roles and spaces, but a subversion of them from within. Recalling the complex symbolic constructions of 17th century Dutch vanitas paintings, a sculptural still life by Belanger presents a seemingly mundane array—furniture, fruit, flowers—loaded with signs and symbols as they protest gendered power structures. A cigarette, emblem of Marlboro Man virility, becomes a comment on limp masculinity at Belanger’s hands as she sculpts a sagging cylinder. A bouquet of flowers and fingers that includes a woman’s mouth, erotically agape, points to the refusal of her objects to just sit pretty. Beyond an illustrative objectification of the body, these sculptures speak up.

In this exhibition, paintings by Smith and sculptures by Belanger are arranged as mise-en-scène. In one instance, Belanger has sculpted a dressing table, complete with attendant accoutrements. To comprise a vanity, Smith has added a ‘mirror,’ a work that takes on Édouard Manet’s final major painting Un bar aux Folies Bergère (1882). The vanity’s potential for semantic play is not lost on the artists, as Belanger’s arrangement of objects doubles, again, as vanitas. Smith’s ‘mirror,’ in turn, takes up the pure etymology of the word as the viewer will not find herself in its reflection, but Smith’s polymath broom posing here as a Narcissus figure consumed by her image. Objects from Belanger’s dressing table are doubled in Smith’s painting, a literal mirroring between both bodies of work that speaks to the larger metaphoric one at play throughout. Smith and Belanger are engaged in a game of inter-referentiality, as painting and sculpture, discrete works unto themselves, speak to each other across disciplines in surefooted, refreshing solidarity.

Organized by Valentine Blondel, Director, Perrotin New York