Glossy photos of a costume-clad woman, vintage wallpaper, collage-like creations on canvas, and pastel mixed media scenes, all commenting on race, gender constructions, and beauty standards; This is just a sample of what you encounter at the Flag Art Foundation’s exhibit: Counterfeit Currency by Genevieve Gaignard. Gaignard is a biracial artist based in Los Angeles whose work focuses on identity and intersections between race, femininity, and class, as well examines the concept of “passing” as white. The Gaignard solo exhibition running from June 5 – August 17, 2018, features self-portraits, fictional personas, and staged environments, drawing on pop-culture and humor to demonstrate displacement.
I visited the exhibit a few weeks ago. My best friend has been working at The Flag Foundation in Chelsea as an intern over the summer and I wanted to get a sense of her work environment and learn about the art she has been familiarizing herself with day-to-day. Having Maddie walk her family and myself through both rotating exhibits at Flag was invaluable because it provided us with much-needed context about the artists and the concepts behind their work. This blog is my own “walk-through” of sorts in print form of the Gaignard exhibit, touching on my favorite pieces.
The first work you encounter upon entering this second-floor exhibit is entitled “Seeing is Believing.” It consists of a wall covered in wallpaper featuring the disdainful, judgmental faces of what looks to be the ideal/typical Victorian white woman of class. In the center of the wall is a black fun-house mirror construction that yields a distorted image of the viewer when they gaze into it. The piece seems to comment on how others’ perceptions and expectations of you produce a false or in-congruent image of how you see yourself.
The title piece of the exhibition directly following: “Counter Fit,” depicts Gaignard herself on a beach, wearing a pink visor and the classic tourist t-shirt of a woman’s body in a bikini. With arms outstretched, Gaignard holds a dollar bill beach towel out behind her in the glossy photograph. The meaning of the piece feels clear, commenting on notions of an ideal, model-thin body and the institution of capitalism, especially within the beauty industry that profits on women feeling insecure and inferior. (All of the photography within the exhibition features Gaignard as the subject, manipulating her appearance in various ways to show how perceptions of race and class can be malleable).
Another piece I highly enjoyed was a collage on panel with the cheeky title: “She’s So Articulate.” It features a cutout of a black women with an afro at the bottom corner of the piece, head cocked to the side in a sort of challenge. The background is vintage wallpaper and side profiles of other black women, as well as a black women’s head with the brain exposed. The piece plays on the idea of “scientific” difference between the races and stereotypes about the way black people talk and present themselves in society. The title to me seemed like a condescending quote you may hear from a white person if they were surprised that someone who is black could be eloquent.
Both of the staged scenes also captured my interest and attention. The first scene called “Be More” is a staging of a bathroom with vintage flamingo wallpaper, stocked with beauty products advertising to black women (like hair dye and straighteners, hair removal etc.) It seems to imply that there is some fundamental difference and a very specific standard that black women must strive to achieve. The mirror in the bathroom simply reads “Be more,” encouraging women to value individuality and not allow themselves to be boxed in by society when it comes to their appearances. The second scene is a living room setting with stereo-typically “black” objects and decor (panthers, records by mo-town artists etc). Maddie explained that the piece draws on Gaignard’s own life experience growing up as biracial and having a mother who tried to educate her on her heritage, but often, although well-meaning, ended up reinforcing and perpetuating stereotypes about black culture.
I would highly recommend The Flag Art Foundation if you are interested in contemporary and thought-provoking work, as well as want a manageable setting. I enjoy the fact that Flag is a smaller non-profit gallery, so you are able to take in each piece without being overwhelmed by volume. Check them out at their website: http://flagartfoundation.org/ and learn more about Gaignard on her personal website: http://www.genevievegaignard.com/.