NOVEMBER 14, 2020 – FEBRUARY 13, 2021
NOVEMBER 14, 2020 – FEBRUARY 13, 2021
McClain Gallery is pleased to present Rainbow Dream Machine, Julia Kunin’s (b. 1961, Vermont) first solo exhibition at the gallery. The exhibition presents ceramic pieces from the artist’s Caryatid series, a procession of figurative, wall-mounted, and multipart high reliefs. In Kunin’s distinctive style, the works drift between figuration and abstraction while borrowing the language of architecture and employing luster glazes.
"The body and architecture become intertwined creating portraits that verge on the robotic and otherworldly, stand-ins for future Guerillères, or warriors."
Of this series, Kunin says: “These abstracted surreal female and non-gender-specific figures that I am continuing to develop address sexuality while incorporating imagery from once utopian structures. The body and architecture become intertwined, creating portraits that verge on the robotic and otherworldly, stand-ins for future Guerillères, or warriors.” The utopian structures Kunin refers to are manifold: Caryatids in Greek architecture dating back to the 6th century B.C.; the architecture and arts and crafts of 20th century Socialist Hungary; the Bauhaus movement, specifically Oskar Schlemmer’s “The Triadic Ballet,” and its robotic, futuristic costumes; and illustrator Aubrey Beardsley’s Art Nouveau-era drawings that incorporate both pattern and organic forms. While Art Nouveau and Bauhaus are stylistic approaches to art and design theory, they are representative of a shift toward modernism and not without their ideological dogma. Utopian structures, then, refer not only to built architecture but also to experimental constructions of thought.
The utopian structures Kunin refers to are manifold: Caryatids in Greek architecture dating back to the 6th century B.C.; the architecture and arts and crafts of 20th century Socialist Hungary; the Bauhaus movement, specifically Oskar Schlemmer’s “The Triadic Ballet,” and its robotic, futuristic costumes; and illustrator Aubrey Beardsley’s Art Nouveau-era drawings that incorporate both pattern and organic forms.
With reverence for such historical wellsprings as Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus, Greek architecture, and all manner of iridescent sources (like ceramics, glass, peacock feathers and countless other naturally occuring gleaming beasts), Kunin's sculptures read as architectural friezes in their own right, telling the story of battle-ready warriors: totemic and unwaning. Gender and sexuality have always been strong integrants of Kunin’s work. Her abstract approach returned to an overt method of figurative representation to address a mounting erasure of queer, specifically lesbian, portrayal in society at large. While possessing female attributes and symbols of femininity like breasts, keyhole shapes, and eyes, the sculptures are essentially genderless. These sentinel-like figures could hail from a futuristic utopia, serving as its protectors and guardians. The viewer can glean a narrative subtext via visual cues, but it is open to interpretation and relies purely upon the viewer’s reference-making to develop a full story.
...queer and lesbian visibility, explored through the idea of the spectacle and the surreal, are paramount to Kunin and the process of layering in her work.
Through scale, Kunin builds a direct physical relationship with the viewer’s body, introducing a corporeal familiarity and trust to what appears to be an almost alien being. The idea of the alien–the bold, ever-shifting colors, the abstracted, isolated organs, the mechanized forms that fuse and morph body with architecture–is a direct reference to queerness, which Kunin claims as her own, and also sends out as signals to those prone to their reception. Kunin’s abstraction of the human body expands her investment in gender-bending, creating a code to convey messages of homoeroticism and the underrepresented queer body. Expressing sexuality through code, while not a new conceit, is a method that allows Kunin to develop an implicit dialogue with queer audiences that subverts the “neutral” (read: straight, patriarchal, white) spaces of art history. Kunin continues a legacy of queer-coding found in artists like Marsden Hartley, who worked within the white male artists’ traditions while covertly revealing his male lover through the exhibition of his war medals and military regalia in Portrait of a German Officer. While holding the personal belief that sexuality and orientation does not a person make, queer and lesbian visibility, explored through the idea of the spectacle and the surreal, are paramount to Kunin and the process of layering in her work.
The luster glazes expand Kunin's idea of the burlesque, that is, to take something ordinary, even grotesque, and transform it into something spectacular.
Rainbow Dream Machine finds Kunin further developing her use of proprietary glazes. Rooted in ancient Persia, iridescent glazes experienced newfound popularity during the Belle Époque, finding their way into art and architecture during the Art Nouveau period. Kunin first began using commercial lusters while at the John Michael Kohler Arts Industry Residency, Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 2007. She then began using more complex luster glazes on her first trip to Hungary in 2009. She continues to travel to Hungary where she was a Fulbright Scholar in 2013. Visually, the luster glazes expand Kunin's idea of the burlesque, that is, to take something ordinary, even grotesque, and transform it into something spectacular. The molecular shift that occurs in the kiln combines heavy metals and results in a reaction akin to raku, depositing a final layer of shine–the fuming, oil-spill rainbow effect–on the work’s surface. Not intent on perfection, Kunin’s handling of clay involves deliberate reworking and manipulation and results in the presence of her hands and fingermarks on the forms. She introduces a new method of applying traditionally sleek and highly polished luster glazes to the field along with a new means of pulling meaning from the depths of material heritage.
WORKS IN EXHIBITION
JULIA KUNIN’s (b. 1961, Vermont) work has been exhibited extensively across the country and internationally. She earned a B.A. from Wellesley College and an M.F.A. from The Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. In 2008 she received the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and had a residency at Art Omi. In 2007 she received the John Michael Kohler Arts/Industry Artist Residency. Fellowships have included: The MacDowell Colony, The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation, A CEC Artslink grant to The Republic of Georgia, The Bellevuesaal residency in Wiesbaden, Germany, Yaddo, The Millay Colony, The Vermont Studio Center, The CORE Program, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (1985-87) and Skowhegan.
Kunin’s work is included in Corporal Identity, Body Language, the 9th Triennale for Form and Content, edited by Nancy Preu, Sabina Runde and Christine Schmidt-Gartner, New York: Museum of Arts and Design, 2003; Lesbian Art in America, by Harmony Hammond, published by Rizzoli, 2000, and in Artists to Artists a Decade of the Space Program, published by The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation, and appears on the cover of Cherry Smith’s Damn Fine Art by New Lesbian Artists, 1996. Kunin’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Art and Design, New York; Museum of Applied Art and Design, Frankfurt, Germany; Sculpture Center, New York; Brattleboro Museum, Vermont and in McClain Gallery, Houston’s 2018 group exhibition re:construction.
IN THE STUDIO