Cross-Dressing for the Battlefield
Salon 94 and Lyles & King
From April 29 – May 23, 2021
Feminist artist Natalie Frank‘s Cross-Dressing for the Battlefield is set to exhibit from April 29 to May 23, 2021 in a two-gallery solo exhibition presented by Salon 94 and Lyles & King. The exhibition explores female resistance, transgression, and desire through the lens of portraiture. Frank plays with concepts from premonition, congregation, performance, and fantasy – having her subjects perform their feminine identity rather than inhabit it. Many of her works draw inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, and Joan of Arc. While her female characters are often drawn from fairytales, literature, and art history, her subjects challenge societal norms and conventions.
Eight colorful paper pulp paintings surrounded by a chorus of elaborately under-painted and glazed ceramic sculptures displayed on pedestals and walls will be in the spotlight at Salon 94. Straying from her typical sequential, narrative-based convention, Frank creates a theatre-in-the-round – a stage in which her multiple narratives unfold. In it, brides, singers, saints, and sinners co-mingle, each shown in the act of transformation or becoming. Decorated with blooming flora, they converse with their animal counterparts who act as talismans, spirit guides, or alter-egos. Whether it’s an owl with outstretched wings that lands upon a woman’s shoulders or a regal iguana that settles on top of the head of a figure deep in thought, Frank’s sitters, which are created from layered pigmented paper pulp or twisted, painted clay, “are embodiments of baroque embellishment, with each lavish attribute pointing to the construction of feminine identity and the disruption of conventional gender norms.”
The exhibition continues at Lyles & King, where two wall vinyl made from Frank’s drawings span the entire length of the gallery as they surround seated female figures, who stand at seven feet tall and whose portraits are made of paper pulp. According to the press release, this is where visitors can view “two weary soldiers break bread with their sisters: a semi-nude bride subversively clad in diaphanous white; a combative dominatrix gripping her leather whip; a high-heeled woman in red balancing seductively atop her wobbly chair; and a bashful-yet-noble robed figure peeking through a fistful of freshly cut flowers.” The table, which springs out from the wall, acts as a runway for vessels that are formed by women inhabiting both ordinary and magical roles.
The experimental artist, whose work narrows in on the intersections of feminism, sexuality, and violence, has several notable upcoming events. In June, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Wisconsin will mount Unbound, a survey of Frank’s drawings, books, and performance works before the exhibition travels to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Ohio in January 2022. Further, this summer, PBS will premiere a newly commissioned opera, Jar Full of Bees, which will incorporate Frank’s drawings.