A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

Rachel Feintstein’s “Secrets” at the Gagosian Gallery

January 28, 2018
Rachel Feinstein | “Secrets” | Gagosian Gallery | January 11 – February 17, 2018 | gagosian.com

Rachel Feinstein’s Art has illuminated the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. Her very first exhibition in Los Angeles, titled “Secrets,” is based on Victoria’s Secret fashion shows and their young, beautiful models – angels with wings. In her work, she has removed the angel wings off of her sculptures and has given each a name, like Fire Work, Ballerina, and Butterfly.Considering that fashion has always been a subject avoided by painters, we refreshingly find, in exhibit eight of Rachel Feinstein’s larger-than-life sculpture pieces (all made of high density foam), the portrayal of beauty as a distorted, turned upside-down, grotesque vision. In turn, the work poses the question: is the fashion industry exploiting the young female physical bodies solely for their commercial purposes?

In contrast to the angels, in the exhibit are large walls of the gallery covered by wallpaper of her collages, showing a mixture of buildings, fountains, trees, animals, cars, and eighteenth century people. Here and there in her collage pieces, she uses pieces of mirror in between her painted imagery. Viewing her paintings, one can see her own reflection, and the viewer becomes part of the painting itself.

It is true that even though, for thousands of years, everything in art has already been told and retold, we are still always hungry for something brand new in art to astonish us. We expect to be swept off our feet, be awakened, and be moved to feel as though all the emotions hidden deep inside us have come to the surface.  We want to feel as though the artist is holding an invisible magic knife in her hand and has the ability to cut us emotionally, as she wishes, through her visual presentation.

Even though I found the craftsmanship in Rachel Feinstein’s art to be impressive, emotionally, it did not cut me too deeply.

Don’t miss this exhibition; go see it before it ends!

I’ve always been interested in portraying some kind of fantasy, then showing that it’s completely constructed. There are always dark messages hidden behind beauty, and the act of sculpting is about listening to that inner voice that warns you about something lurking beneath the surface.
—Rachel Feinstein

In richly detailed sculptures and multipart installations, Feinstein considers the sumptuous materiality of historical European luxury, updating its refined surfaces and edges with a gritty and approximate excess. Borrowing freely from Baroque and Rococo sculpture, religious iconography, Romantic landscapes, and mainstream media, she explores issues of taste and desire, synthesizing visual and societal opposites such as romance and pornography; elegance and kitsch; the marvelous and the utterly banal.

“Secrets” consists of new sculptures, wallpaper, and paintings in which Feinstein cannibalizes notions of beauty, belief, and spectacle to reveal perfection as a form of burlesque. The Secrets is a series of eight large-scale sculptures that reflects on the Victoria’s Secret phenomenon, with its trademark “Angels” in their jaw-dropping lingerie costumes—butterflies, firebirds, baby dolls, snow queens, and more—strutting their stuff at the brand’s annual fashion extravaganza that is broadcast to millions of ogling fans worldwide. Feinstein’s figures have been scaled up in hard foam from small clay maquettes, then individual hues applied piece by piece in hand-colored epoxy resins.

According to standard Renaissance proportions, five of The Secrets are rendered at just above human scale, and three smaller figures are placed on tall plinths, thrusting forward in mid-stride. But, instead of the ideal curves of classical figures or the equally unattainable lines of their contemporary runway prototypes, Feinstein opts for something far more mortal. The Secrets mutate, deliquesce, and bulge, as she trowels on chunks of clay and epoxy, unconcerned either with verisimilitude or refinement. Titled after their costumes, Bandleader holds up a large, white-gloved hand; Butterfly, teetering in heels, leans forward to blow a kiss; and Ballerina tilts her smeared rainbow face towards her raised arm, pinup style. Here, the priceless, gem-encrusted bras and lacy thongs that feed the Victoria’s Secret myth deflate into muddy neon pastes and visceral tangles, debunking the multi-billion dollar American lingerie magnate as a mess of filthy lucre.

“Secrets” also includes mirror-paintings of luxury homes and cars, as well as a collaged wallpaper that pairs found images of modern West Coast architecture with details from eighteenth-century wallpaper depicting lush, Arcadian gardens. This immersive environment further highlights the distorting effects of consumer desire, wherein real, breathing bodies are displaced by the intoxicating fumes of costly commodities.

Rachel Feinstein was born in 1971 in Fort Defiance, Arizona and lives in New York. She studied at Columbia University, New York and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Madison, Maine. Institutional exhibitions include “Tropical Rodeo,” Le Consortium, Dijon, France (2006); “Rachel Feinstein: The Snow Queen,” Lever House, New York (2011); and “Folly,” Madison Square Park, New York (2014).

Artworks © Rachel Feinstein. Courtesy Gagosian. Photography by Robert McKeever.

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