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VOLUME 01: MAY 2001

Renee Cox
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 With her work she attempts to transmit and convey the message that old outdated racial stereotypes are no longer acceptable in the year 2001.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 skin.

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 rethink.

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 racial stereotypes.