An exploration of private versus public spaces is present throughout modern and contemporary art. A couple of artists whose works are currently showing in the Carnegie’s Go Figure continue this discussion. Kate Holterhoff invites the viewer into private domestic spaces while Ying Fang Shen opens the doors to a public bath or spa.
More brilliant in person, the work of Kate Holterhoff presents the wonderfully expressive qualities of painting. Her Self-Portrait fittingly portrayed in bold strokes of color shows her standing and confidently accepting the gaze. This boldness in her style however does not overshadow the intimacy shared with her subjects. Similar to well-known artist, Mary Cassatt, Holterhoff invites her viewer into domestic spaces finding friends and family. Oftentimes paintings like The Ladies at the Party, 2006 are welcoming. Here the artist seems to borrow directly from Cassatt’s Tea Party the subject of leisure and friendship. Holterhoff’s nudes are equally inviting in their beauty. Mallory is an absolutely beautiful modern “Venus” figure.
Though other times, Holterhoff’s intimate portrayals can force the viewer into an unwilling voyeur. Christy done in 2005 places the viewer in what seems to be an uncomfortable role. We find ourselves looking down at Christy as if reprimanding her. Here intimacy calls on the viewer to be a critic not of the painting, but of the subject. Continuing with the Impressionists, I look to Degas who also worked with unusual perspectives. He too allowed the viewer an uncomfortably dominant gaze.
The work of Ying Fang Shen instead dominates the viewer. Like Holterhoff, she borrows from a long artistic tradition; here, Chinese hanging scrolls. These large drawings of men bathing (there are woman too) at a public bath monumentalize the male nude not often seen in an Eastern painting tradition despite the ancient cultural tradition of the Asian bath houses. Because of this, Ying Fang Shen forces this art historian to travel both east and west through various periods of art to find an historical context for her work. It’s a great trip. What I find is an interesting hybrid of subject and style. The focus on the male body seen in the ancient west presented in a traditional eastern medium. In this way, the works make public in the west what we often deemed private.