Art Lies, Volume 23, Summer 1999 Page: 39
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WOMEN AND THEIR WORK
by Laura Lark
How open are we, really? As sophisticated as
any art-viewing audience might be, there still
seems to be an unspoken code implying that
whether the appeal of the art be in its Beauty,
Social Relevance, or pure Hip-ness, its artiness
lies in its effect of seriousness, in its pretension
to instill a profound sense of awe, of reverence.
If not that, at least some weighty or ironic
social commentary. It's like having that smug
knowledge that when you approach a Richard
Serra, you're somehow closer to God. And
when you're faced with a Louis Quatorze
settee, you're not.
Lea Whittington has always called these
commonplaces into question: Must we feel
profundity, gravity, to experience higher
truths? Must Beauty necessarily accompany
loftiness to achieve its goals? Her sculptures
and assemblages have always pushed at the
ambiguous edges of some of the art world's last
exclusions, and never have they done so so
playfully, lavishly, and intelligently as in these
most recent incarnations on display at Women
and Their Work.
The Tuffets (I and II), both free-standing
and featured in the middle of the gallery, most
recall Whittington's earlier work. Tuffet II a
204-inch sprawl of butterscotch colored silk
engulfing a semi-upholstered armature,
provides one with the feel of a grand, inacces-
sible ottoman of the art-deco era. Its remote
utilitarian function is squelched by the
surrounding reams of spotless silk and punc-
tuated with fat braided tassels. A world of
comfort and luxury seems to await the
bystander, but as Art, it looms, forbidding
approach. As in works of previous years, Tuffet
II brings one to appreciate the elegance and
excess of ornamentation of items in this genre.
Tuffet II's facade, its every inch of sumptuous
fabric, reminds us of what fashion, what inte-
rior d&cor serves to mask: our ordinariness.
These structures also bring into question just
how society marginalizes something beautiful
if it happens also to serve a purpose.
With other pieces in the gallery, each
wall-mounted and suspended by armatures
and drapery pins, Whittington seems to be
widening her circle of reference. All of the new
works are a departure, suggesting a more mini-
malist or reductive mood. Though
Whittington continues to use thick, sensual
fabrics as she did earlier, her palette has light-
ened considerably. Using creamy yellows,
pastel roses, baby blues, she forces one to
reckon with the social codes embedded in the
color, texture, and economic value of the
In 99,88,44, a lavish drape of icy blue silk
lined with deep blue velvet, one must reconcile
a world of contradictions. The satiny overlay
evokes nights at the senior prom, fairy tales,
while the weightier underlining suggests some-
thing more sinister, perhaps-a seductive
The Ghost of Disco works in a similar
manner. Frosty panne-velvet in a springlike
green hue seems to lounge on its armatures,
and is lined with a sedate olive silk. The frivo-
lity of the era is captured perfectly in the top
portion of the drapery, while the underlining
seems to suggest something far less booty-
Unlike Whittington's earlier works, these
pieces become what they are in a looser, more
fluid way. And more than ever, what they are
is focused on minimalism and simplicity.
99,88,44 recalls the shaped canvases of
Ellsworth Kelly and the stark qualities of
Barnett Newman's works. Seafoam Shroud, a
fabulously film noir-ish piece consisting of
two tones of draped turquoise silk, is seductive
and slinky, yet confrontational in its siren-like
angularity. This work, like many in the show,
seems to dare the viewer to discount it, like
some sexy but tough screen star of old-Joan
Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, or Jane Greer.
Whittington's work always seems to ask
where art belongs, or how items are catego-
rized and compartmentalized. In viewing these
pieces, one is reminded that nothing is sacred,
yet one is also cleverly shown that individually
it is preciously so. Her voluptuously crafted
folds of textiles draw us in, recalling issues of
materialism, commodity, and luxury. Yet we're
enveloped in a realm of something finer. Art,
perhaps. As far as Lea Whittington's recent
showing at Women and Their Work is
concerned, it's clear that this realm can be
anywhere, and be constructed of anything. O
ARTLIES SUMMER 1999 39
108" x 60" x 14"
Photo: Courtesy of the Artist
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Lightman, Victoria H. Art Lies, Volume 23, Summer 1999, periodical, 1999; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228053/m1/41/: accessed February 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .