Nancy Davidson

Nancy Davidson
Art in America
January, 1999
pp. 148-149

Nancy Davidson's photographs are supremely erotic: close-up views of voluptuous curves gently constrained by satin and lace, the fabrics of sex. Six feet long and closely cropped to reveal only the most titillating hints of perfectly rounded breasts--or are they buttocks?--the images give off a looming sexuality that's almost suffocating. While similar to the crotch and cleavage paintings that Photo-Realist John Kacere got away with in the pre-feminist '70s, Davidson's photos are actually much more seductive. The joke, however, is on us. These aren't the tits and ass of some paragon of super-sex, but details of Davidson's oversize sculptures--weather balloons dressed to kill in Victoria's Secret-style finery.

Creasing them with giant G-strings or dressing them in coquettish short-shorts to reveal tempting, fleshlike mounds, Davidson has a knack for exploiting the balloons' sexual potential. But while the sculptures themselves are colorful and frivolous, almost carnivalesque, the photographs have a dark elegance. Rendered in black and white or sepia, they are obvious references to the movie queens of the past, or the beribboned damsels of old French postcards. At the same time there is an unnatural, almost mechanistic symmetry to Davidson's immense, tarted-up spheres, and, laminated on aluminum sheets, the photographs themselves have a sleek, hi-tech surface. Simultaneously sensual and industrial, nostalgic and futuristic, Davidson's images could be the mutated offspring of Mae West and Blade Runner.

From inflated latex to silicone is not a big leap, and the fact that we can be turned on by weather balloons demonstrates the power the trappings of sex have in this culture. Clearly Davidson's subject is our culture's objectification of women as manifested in the media, an issue that has been plumbed by myriad artists. But Davidson is far from didactic; her work is light and playful, as well as genuinely erotic, which makes our involvement with it more experiential than intellectual. Her sly seduction shows us to be objectifiers as well as objectified, illuminating our roles as both accomplices and victims.


-Carol Diehl

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