"No Prenup" by Rachel Hovnanian
Rachel Hovnanian may have used dolls and doll house furnishings to create tableaus for her latest photo exhibit, but the 24 white-washed images that make up "Too Good To Be True," opening May 26 at Colette Blanchard Gallery on the Lower East Side, aren't exactly kid friendly.
In one, cheekily titled "The Collector," a man reclines with a cocktail while a woman--clad in a beauty pageant sash and crown--stands stiffly before him. "This one is about what happens when you become a trophy wife, how you just become an object," explains Hovnanian. Another, called "No Prenup", features a young female sitting on a bed, engulfed by piles of shopping bags from every luxury label imaginable--Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Versace--as a noticeably older male looks on. "The shopping precludes these people from having an intimate relationship," she says.
It's classic Hovnanian, to anyone familiar with her work. The artist, who is married to real estate magnate Ara Hovnanian, has dedicated much of her oeuvre to what she has dubbed "trophyism" or "the idea that we have to be this perfect person." (Hovnanian's last show was called "The Power and Burden of Beauty" and featured life-size dressing rooms equipped with fun house mirrors.) Though she was raised in Texas--veritable capital of trophyism--Hovnanian says her parents did their best to shield her from the pressures of being a Southern Belle. (For instance, her mother forbid her to play with Barbies because, she says, "Barbie represented false ideas and hopes to young girls.") Still, the artist says it was ultimately a losing battle. "We can't avoid it, you open a magazine and you are bombarded--'lose 20 pounds, you're fat'," she says.
Hovnanian says this particular show was provoked by, of all things, the most recent presidential election. "All of a sudden the Republicans picked a beauty queen and Hillary [Clinton] was being teased about her pantsuits. So often it came back to 'Hillary's unattractive' or 'How much did Sarah Palin pay for her clothes?'" recalls the artist. "You didn't hear that kind of criticism for the male candidates."
In addition to doll house pieces, "Too Good To Be True" will feature life-size subjects, such as a performance artist who will read gossip magazines while shackled to a chair. "She's a young beautiful girl and she's in her world of magazines," explains Hovnanian. "But there's nowhere for her to go."
Humans might seem a preferable medium when grappling with such adult topics, but Hovnanian insists she wasn't at all limited working with toy figurines. "It's amazing what you can find," says Hovnanian, who trolled doll house Web sites and stores for materials. "I have mini-syringes that are probably a quarter of an inch. I even have mini-condoms."