There’s a convention that Pink Is for Girls, but it hasn’t always been that way. The color, thought to be named after the frilled edge of a small flower of the Dianthus genus, emerged in the 17th century as a gender-neutral fashion choice for Europe’s elite, only becoming associated with femininity when men transitioned into business suits in the 19th century. Deployed in the campaign to lure women into the kitchen after World War II, the color took on a more activist role in the 1990s, when the pink ribbon became a symbol of the campaign against breast cancer.
That’s the backdrop for “Think Pink, ” a show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that charts the social meanings of pink using paintings, prints, jewelry, and rose-colored clothing (for both men and women) in the museum’s collections, from Kate Greenaway’s 1884 volume Language of Flowers to Evelyn Lauder’s Louboutins.
In visual art the path of pink has been somewhat different, since it’s hard to paint sex or violence without it. Meanwhile its traditional associations with femaleness and intimacy continue to provoke and challenge contemporary artists. Pink isn’t neutral. Its apparent softness enables it to speak loudly, about gender and race and power and other issues. In a sense, you have to be tough to pull off pink. Here’s some tough pink art from around the art scene.
Flirting at the edges of perversion, the pictures in Beverly Semmes’s current show at Susan Inglett appear to be erotica, though it isn’t entirely clear because the artist has covered the female figures with paint and ink in the spirit of rogue censors who find the whole cover-up a bit of a turn-on. She titled the exhibition “The Feminist Responsibility Project.”
New Delhi-based artist Mithu Sen is known for her sensual, grotesque images of the human body. Her classic piece Boomerang is made of false teeth and dental polymer, the same materials she will use to create a massive hanging installation at Michigan State University’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum this spring.
With visceral works by Paul Thek, Tetsumi Kudo, Alina Szapocznikow, and Hannah Wilke, last year’s “Counter Forms” at Andrea Rosen was an epicenter of tough pink art. Among the works on view was this painting by Paul Thek from his newspaper series of the early ’80s. In a letter at the time he described the works as “interesting, mind stopping, and super BRAT,” noting that while it distressed his spirit to make the pictures, “to shock and hurt” was his goal.
Artist and poet Melanie Braverman made this piece, on view in “Queer Threads” at the Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, from fragments of antique quilts. On top she has tenderly embroidered a range of anti-gay slurs.
Richard Tuttle’s current show at Pace features drawings and studies for the massive textile installation he is planning for the Tate, part of a fall collaboration with the Whitechapel called “I Don’t Know, Or the Weave of Textile Language.” Summoning the language of drapery from Old Master paintings, Looking for the Map 7 uses a screen of wire mesh to transform a piece of red fabric into a supporting column for a cascading series of fabric formations, which culminate in a spiky pink crown. Inside is a nest of linen thread, which has done a sinister job on three tightly wound appendages.
A deadpan 1962 Jim Dine, in Hauser & Wirth’s current offering of works from the Onnasch Collection, takes on more layers the more you look at it. Titled Flesh chisel, it neatly sums up some major themes associated with pink: sex, violence, and art-making.
“That bizarre sense of pink” was not a big hit when Futura 2000, a street artist who’d lately begun to work on canvas, first showed his Pink Spraycan in SoHo in the early ‘80s, says Carlo McCormick, longtime chronicler of the downtown art scene. “People hated it,” the artist told him. Happily for Futura, the Sputnick-inspired space odyssey was bought by Martin Wong, the fellow artist whose vast collection of New York City graffiti is now being showcased at the Museum of the City of New York.
The lone female artist in “The Big Picture,” the show of large-scale figurative paintings at the New York Academy of Art, Jenny Saville stands her ground with Bleach, a devastating rendering of a bruised young woman who might descend from de Kooning but gets in your face.
In his current show at Jack Shainman, Richard Mosse reprises his heart-rending multimedia installation from the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year. The piece, shot in a discontinued military surveillance film that turns the footage a rose color, documents his experience infiltrating armed rebel groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
It took a moment to register the burst of violence in the new paintings Sue Williams just showed at 303, whose candy-colored palette belies their somber theme: the attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath.
A “three-man crew of slapstick thugs” is how MoMA, the owner of this 1969 Philip Guston, describes the figures wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods in the chilling scene. Rather than representing one group, they stand for know-nothing violence of all kinds. The painting is part of “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties,” opening March 7 at the Brooklyn Museum.
No vessel emerges in its traditional configuration when Kathy Butterly is finished with her clay sculptures. Dare and Carnivorous are some typical titles in her show opening today at Tibor de Nagy, filled with frisky ceramic forms that appear to have started their lives as cups or vases, only to be smushed at the last moment, wrangled until their insides are showing, and prettied up with glaze—much of it pink. They look delicate, but don’t mess with them.