This was going to be a write-up about Courtney Love’s art show, “And She’s Not Even Pretty,” on view now at Fred Torres Collaborations in New York’s Chelsea. But as I began looking at what other writers have had to say about the show (don’t ever do this before writing a review, guys), I grew unsettled. Of course the material that Love and Fred Torres have chosen to display is personal; of course it is provocative; of course it is meant to inspire a reaction. All art hopes to achieve that. Indifference, after all, is far worse than vitriol.
But there, among the headlines: “Courtney Love covers wedding dress in obscenities in embarrassing attempt to launch art career”; “Courtney Love shows nude paintings”; “Courtney Love plays with pastels”; “Courtney Love attempts her first gallery show”.
These headlines are telling of the huge public-image backlash that Courtney has always been up against. These headlines either belittle, sexualize, or both, just like a majority of the headlines in Love’s career. “Embarrassing attempt” is mean-spirited linkbaiting from an anonymous UK journalist. And I do not even want to unpack the kiddie connotations implied in ”plays with pastels.” The authors, in both cases, obviously meant to be nasty. But it is the last headline here that I find the most baffling: “Courtney Love attempts her first gallery show.” I could argue that “attempts” is not a word someone would use about an art show produced by, say, Billy Corgan, a peer of Love’s. However, that would be a meaningless, easily refutable, subjective comparison. Instead, I’ll say that the word “attempt” is never really a neutral word in writing. It conjures a negative context, a lack of success; an impossibility. From its headline, the review sets Love’s work up for failure — even though, amazingly, the piece that accompanied this headline — David Ng’s, in the LA Times — was one of the positive ones.
Then there are these, which are frustratingly numerous:
“Courtney Love’s debut ‘Kurt-free’ art show to open in New York”; “Courtney Love upsets Kurt Cobain fans with obscene art”.
Mentions of Kurt Cobain are everywhere. Someone pulled the phrase “Kurt-free” from an interview Love gave to the Huffington Post, and it has been reposted ad infinitum, becoming a sort of defining catch-all. Sad, considering the images’ depiction of maleness is so rare and peculiar. There is one piece where a male figure is seated and a woman is kneeling down, her face in his lap. There is another piece with Love’s signature femme-doll face with a red, heart-shaped splotch where a goatee would be located on a man. Both the laconic male figure and the insinuation of facial hair are striking because this show is otherwise so. damn. girly. Female symbolism, banality, and status are at the center of it. Female experience of loneliness and celebrity are its thesis. The show is about the blood and exuberance of love, but not about love of any one person. Calling this show a “Kurt-free zone” is like trying to define an aquarium as a locomotive-free zone. Obviously.
And haters, Courtney Love knows you don’t like her. Courtney Love is totally aware of her status as icon of the reviled — all you have to do is take one look around the room. The first thing you will notice is the size of the pieces. In photos of the show, the work seems like it will be small, but on the white walls of the gallery, these pictures are fairly large, ranging from two to around four feet in height. These are not extractions from a sleepless-night sketchbook, but real illustrations with gravity, size, and intention — which makes their subject matter, the doll princess of teenage notebooks, all the more brazen.
The art mostly focuses on a beautiful, sad, doll-like figure, in states of undress, sometimes vaguely porny, sometimes mournfully smoking a cigarette in bed. Invariably, she makes unflinching eye contact with the viewer, and she is often crying blood. There is a lot of color and scribbling, but the sense of line about the central figure is sure-footed. The person who produced this work is fully aware of what her own image conjures for people, and this is what the work is about. It’s a dark chuckle at celebrity — as Judy Berman at Flavorwire wrote about the piece “She Had 42 Birkin Bags,” the work reads “like a tongue-in-cheek epitaph, a bitterly funny depiction of ridiculous rich-bitch problems.”
I liked this show for its darkness, humor, and style. You don’t have to like it if you go see it, journalists, but please, be clever and original in your descriptions of it and try to at least glance at the art.
All of this. Courtney Love’s art (while worthwhile, I think) doesn’t rival, say, Louise Bourgeois’ — but even if it did, these would still be the headlines. Not OK, media.