Family is the first power structure we encounter, the first justice system, the first bureaucracy, and the first set of blueprints for all other relationships. Family is an ongoing performance, where roles are assigned and permanent, with a constant expectation of an audience, both private and public. The visual representation of relational bonds speaks to us in a particular language, instantly recognizable, universal in its accessibility, and distinct to each viewer in its affect. My Brother is a Liar brings together works in which familial relations are visible and performative, where human bonds function not only as subject matter, but also as structural devices that allow for engagement with broader ideas.
Using resemblance, gesture, action, inference and proximity as material and device, the works in this show depict a variety of relational bonds: real, constructed and imagined. These form what I consider “geometries” - specific shapes, coded with meaning, that become the means by which to engage other content. In this exhibition, these geometries serve as proxy for other relationships and institutions, act as an entry point for cultural commentary, and offer a means of exploring identity, spectatorship, boundaries, gender, expectations and memory. Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince photograph themselves as identical twins, reverse engineering the most supernatural and insular of familial bonds, and poking fun at their roles - and perhaps rare interchangeability - as twin darlings of the art world. Sisters Janelle and Lisa Iglesias mine the visual impact of resemblance and sibling rivalry through posed comparisons and absurd contests, underscoring how much gendered connection and competition intertwine. Neil Goldberg, from a distance that recalls wildlife photography, captures images of men we presume to be couples shopping at Whole Foods, connecting this intimate assumption to the chasm between the production of food and its display and consumption. Mary Kelly loops a stark, black and white close-up shot of her hand caressing her pregnant belly – a foundational human exchange, as well as a conscious effort to insert a real, female bodily gesture into the Minimalist and Conceptual conversation dominant in 1973.
Familial and relational bonds are intimate, emotion-laden subjects that often invite the pejorative use of terms such as “personal” and “sentimental” in the context of art criticism. They are located in bodies, demanding a consideration that invites recognition, transference, and sometimes discomfort. Theorists across various disciplines have pointed out that art with autobiographical or emotional affect at its core has an uncertain place in mainstream, contemporary art history. Jennifer Doyle, author of “Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Art,” has noted: “Because emotion itself has been associated in art criticism with a self-indulgent and naïve practice, it has been absorbed into the category of things one ought not to take seriously.” The ability to look past the emotional or personal elements of work to concepts that have more traditionally critical value often seems both a signifier of the art elite and the goal of art spectatorship. The class and gender-based implications of this bias are obvious. The works in this exhibition vary greatly in how and why they engage intimate, autobiographical or emotional content. My Brother is a Liar aims to underscore the inherent value of such engagement, while at the same time challenging viewers not to allow these elements to become the sum total of the work itself.
- Sara Shaoul