by Artsy Staff
Renee Cox is all about doing whatever it takes to connect, transmit
and convey. Her critics will tell you her work is narcissistic.
They fail to recognize however that if you want to communicate something
badly enough, you will use everything in your arsenal to do it.
Yes, even your body.
Ms. Cox uses her beauty to influence the masses just as one might
use sex or beauty in advertising. A strikingly, attractive black
woman in her early forties, Cox feels a responsibility to speak
out racial taboos and racial discrimination. With her work she attempts
to transmit and convey the message that old outdated racial stereotypes
are no longer acceptable in the year 2001. As a former fashion photographer,
she is using her knowledge of how the public can be manipulated
to buy products with images of sex and beauty.
Her new show "American Family" is now at New York's Robert
Miller Gallery through November 10. Comprised of slick Cibachrome
prints mounted on aluminum, an oversized video projection, and smaller
black and whites (some from the artist's own family album), the
photos serve as a kind of photographic manifesto.
In the gallery's main hall, three large images of the beautiful
and sleek Ms.Cox wearing lingerie greet the viewer. The focal point
is "Black Leather Lace-Up", 2001, where Cox is pictured
from behind, garbed in nothing but a black leather corset. It is
flanked by "Garter Belt", 2001, showing Cox from waist
to mid thigh, clothed in a black lace g-string that tightly grips
her flesh in the most strategic areas and "Fur", 2001
where a white fake fur thong starkly contrasts Cox's smooth, rich
In the East Gallery, Cox's video study shows a gargantuan close
up of two mouths kissing- tongues inter-penetrating in a slow, sensual
motion. If you observe long enough, it becomes almost pornographic.
A black woman, who we suspect to be Cox again, is kissing a white
man. She repeatedly inserts her tongue into his mouth in an intense
rhythm of passion that seems to stretch endlessly.
Using classical art that has been idealized by white males throughout
art history, Cox flips the script. She restages scenarios by utilizing
costumes and facial expressions as counterpoints to their inspiration,
forcing questions about staid perceptions, and challenging one to
A satirical twist of Ingres's "Odalisque", "Baby
Back", 2001, portrays a buff Ms. Cox reclining nude on a chaise
lounge, back towards the audience, wearing red patent leather spike
heels and holding a whip. And in "Cousins at Pussy Pond",
2001, a play on Manet's "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe", Cox
sits nude by a pond, on location somewhere in the Hamptons, next
to two perfectly built and beautiful black men, spears crossed,
looking fiercely protective. By operating simultaneously on multiple
levels, art of this kind is insidious in its ability to creep upon
you. Of all the restagings, I only recognized the intended satire
in "Baby Back." Here, there's no doubt that she's covertly
"working" the viewer through satire. These satirical restagings,
are beautiful, technically well executed and highly original. But
one wonders if these clever twists on the old masters are really
what fascinate. She is after all captivating and posing, in some
cases, entirely nude.
Cox is a master of manipulating slick imagery for advertising and
commercial art. Wielding this visual power, she is applying the
same principals to further her own agenda; using her sexuality to
make a strong statement. Cox subtly attacks peoples' belief, disapproving
and fearful, concious or unconcious, that interracial dating and
marriages is wrong, and finally, perhaps, allows us to move beyond