In the early nineties, art critic David Hickey flirted with unemployability after he published of a series of essays—with ancillary lectures and other public spectacle—on the subject of beauty. His trials were collected into a book, The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty, in 1993, which he soon-after and for many years took out of print. The Invisible Dragon was a call for a reconsideration of beauty in art critical discourse. As Hickey explains in the ‘revised and expanded’ 2009 edition of the book, the whole thing catalyzed from a panel discussion zone-out and an opportune piece of word vomit: daydreaming during the dwindling minutes of a symposium on “the Now”, an audience member directed this question at Hickey: What will be issue of the nineties in art? To which Hickey instinctively replied beauty, following that up with an Aaron Sorkin style speech of rising male bravado (speaking truth to power):
Beauty is not a thing. The Beautiful is a thing. In images, beauty is the agency that causes visual pleasure in the beholder, and, since pleasure is the true occasion for looking at anything, any theory of images that is not grounded in the pleasure of the beholders begs the question of art’s efficacy and dooms itself to inconsequence!
The idea that such a benign proposition could have been career threatening, could have inspired lecture hall walkouts and Artforum vitriol, as Hickey recounts, now seems cute. But back in the nineties, beauty would have been considered taboo in art for its attachment to capital; the saleability of beauty comprising art’s authenticity, it’s “greater-than” differentiation from commodity and advertising, blahblahblah. In championing the most democratic experience of art, aesthetic pleasure, Hickey was also challenging the concurrent art establishment. This still might seem cute and that probably has something to do with why The Invisible Dragon is back in print; times have changed.
“Because it’s the year of the polka-dot,” Andrea Mary Marshall half jokes to me, standing in front of her Self-portrait as Monna Donna, an oil painting of Marshall as her alter ego Gia Condo as the Mona Lisa as a nun the pope’s chair. The piece is filtered in ash polka dots because, thanks to Yayoi Kusama and Damien Hirst, 2012 was the year of the polka-dot. “It’s funny you say that,” I reply to Marshall. Funny because I’d glibly written the same thing but also, “Because one of the few questions I prepped for you was about Yayoi.” Yayoi and Hirst and the open relationship between fashion and art, the unapologetic flow between those markets, an exchange that, in the time of the initial release of The Invisible Dragon, might have brought forth accusations of frivolity and selling out but now seem rather… standard.
Andrea Mary Marshall makes art that deals with the fashion image. She has repainted covers of Vogue as Vague, defaced a Vuitton bag with acrylic, lacquer, and a dirty little secret, and photographed herself as the bloody victim of a fashion spread à la Helmut Newton and The Eyes of Laura Mars. For her most recent show, which is on at the Allegra LaViola Gallery on East Broadway in New York’s Lowest East Side until February 16, Marshall has fashioned herself—always herself, self-portrait is her medium—as the aforementioned Gia Condo, an animus alter ego inspired by the mystery and aura of the Mona Lisa. Gia Condo appears in six large-scale sitting portrait photographs; a short silent film; a collection of untitled film stills (yes, Cindy Sherman); and, finally and most majestically, in thirteen painted portraits of the artist as Mona Lisa that reproduce, in material, size, and composition, da Vinci’s original. Multidisciplinarian that she is, Marshall is also performing on-site, on select Saturdays, as Gia Condo.