Beauty for beauty's sake

By GREG COOK  |  January 28, 2009

The prettiness of much of this art taps into a tradition of feminist art, beginning around 1970s feminist Pattern and Decoration art, which challenged macho æsthetics by embracing floral, decorative, domestic (i.e., "feminine") designs. This idea continues to play out in third-wave feminist art's embrace of the girly.

This reconsideration of gender roles is also apparent in the embrace of traditional lady crafts like sewing and paper-cutting. Crafts too serve as an assertion of humanity in our ever more digital, synthetic world by offering the old how-did-they-do-that thrill of people producing amazingly intricate stuff with their hands.

When I sometimes itch for the work to be more meaty — formally or conceptually — I know I'm butting up against a question at the heart of this trend. It dares you to question whether beauty for beauty's sake is enough.

Also at Chazan Gallery, Jane Hesser of Providence exhibits black-and-white photos mainly shot with a 4"x5" view camera. She gets up close to small things — nests, roots, cocoons — and then adopts a shallow depth of focus, so that you can read tiny details while the rest becomes a sweet soft blur. Other images show human neurons, photographed with a camera rigged to a microscope. A lot depends on Hesser's choice of subjects. The tangles of branches and neurons don't do a lot for me, but the tiny cocoons, unfamiliar but resembling knit and felted bowls, draw me in.

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