This is Bridge, 2013, by Claire Brandt. Its an oil on panel painting, 24 by 24 inches.
  • Courtesy the artist and Bryan Ohno Gallery
  • This is Bridge, 2013, by Claire Brandt. It's an oil on panel painting, 24 by 24 inches.

After a several-year hiatus, Bryan Ohno has opened another gallery of his own, and his first splashy show is Get Naked, a group of female artists who depict female nudes. A temporary wall is erected at the front of the gallery so that passersby on the street don't have to see the female bodies, some sexualized, some not, really. I suppose another effect of this wall is that it makes some people feel excited to go beyond it. Okay. The subtitle of the show, "The sexualized nude less controversial," is clunkily put but beyond the erection of the wall (the erection of the wall, people), it's a nicely quiet exhibition, full of mixed feelings and complexity rather than the splash the main title suggests.

I keep thinking of Seattle painter Claire Brandt's portraits of herself, like the one above. The grayscale of her skin makes her precisely rendered musculoskeleture look dead and ready for dissection despite its yogic strength. Her facial expression is alert and forceful, almost aggressive toward the viewer. But her hair is pure flirt. The single strand extending onto her face curves like the snake in Eden, ending its curve by pointing directly at the pubic hair between her legs, which leads to a tour of what's hidden and what's revealed about her body, the obscure angle of the breasts and nipples, the hidden vagina. What a series of great, familiar (to me) conflicts this depiction enacts. Here are more of her works in the show.

Sarah Whalen. Theres no room in these shunga-like pieces for worrying about being looked at.
  • Courtesy the artist and Bryan Ohno Gallery
  • Sarah Whalen. There's no room in these shunga-like pieces for worrying about being looked at.
Brandt's works remind me of John Berger's writing on nude (on display—public) versus naked (uncovered—private) in Ways of Seeing (put in the terms of Tina Turner, there is no private dancer):

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. ...This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.


To be naked is to be oneself.
To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.

Berger's configuration makes me feel a little victimized. Women have been using their doubleness for centuries to great effect, highly creatively, trying to maximize its potential as much as limit its damaging effects. Many, many, many artists and writers in all sorts of positions on the gender spectrum have made fascinating works on just this visualization-of-women theme.

Get Naked is uneven, but it's great to see such an elaborately curated group show at a commercial gallery. Ohno pulled together eight artists for the occasion from Seattle, Brooklyn, Beijing, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. He was inspired by the exhibition he organized several years ago by Lynda Benglis, the artist responsible for this legendary dildo episode from 1974.

Other pieces definitely worth seeing along with Brandt's self-portraits: the softly entangled bodies of Sarah Whalen; Amanda Manitach's watercolored maidens baring it all to audiences of skeletons with erections; Yanhong Ma's straight-up sexy surfaces; Erin M. Riley's lush porn weavings; and, last but very much not least, Caitlin Berndt's wildly uneasy echo chambers of paintings resonating with layers of doubt and sex and pride (keep looking, and you'll see more layers). Most of these artists are fully ready for their own solo shows, too. This is just a beginning at Ohno.

Caitlin Berndt's Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad, 2011, and Amanda Manitach's Another Situation (both morbid and sort of hilarious: look at the exasperated expression on her face), 2013, on the jump because of NSFW.

Caitlin Berndt.
  • Courtesy of the artist and Bryan Ohno Gallery
  • Caitlin Berndt.

Amanda Manitach.
  • Courtesy of the artist and Bryan Ohno Gallery
  • Amanda Manitach.