Pretty Ugly

I’m a big fan of OC misses’ increasing reliance on the slice-and-dice plastic-surgery industry, seeing as how it pretty much pays my rent. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do think your labia are looking a little tired, and you absolutely should have that vaginal rejuvenation procedure! Go for it! Bombs away!

Carrie Yury’s big, blowsy photo portraits at the Office make that seem kind of silly. Her snaps of friends and students, bigger than life-size, show a selection of unalterably lovely young women, each with pretty skin and big liquid eyes and pouty mouths. Each has been asked to bandage herself with Play-Doh in the spots she would have “fixed.” The results bring on enough eye-rolling to evoke a seizure and an inner Jewish mother sighing over each shayne maidel, “Ach, such a pretty girl!”

The women, a perfect Benetton ad of diversity, must be kidding, right? Big puffy Play-Doh lips on a blue-eyed brunette who’s already giving Liv Tyler a run for her money? Most of the women would go for modest changes—a nose with character here, a weak chin there—but one young lady has just about mummified her face. A slight Asian girl in a stripy shirt and a heart locket, she would cut her eyelids, nose, cheeks and chin. Sweetheart, don’t you know you look like Sandra Oh?

It always pleases me to see a straightforwardly political exhibit—if you need me to explain feminism’s sociopolitical screed against the fashion and cosmetics industries’ constant downward pressuring of the lassies in a never-ending quest to sell more shit, then you probably haven’t been reading this paper. But even if you weren’t going to Yury’s exhibit to nod along wisely to the point she is making—and the fun-poking she indulges in on a subject just about everybody agrees on, feminist or no—the works themselves are worth seeing even aside from the sly screed. The pictures are active, not static, more “shots” than “portraits.” Even though each woman is just sitting before the camera, looking at Yury, there’s no stillness to them. You can see the trust in their relationship; some of them look as if they’ve just closed their lips again after telling Yury a really smutty joke. Others look embarrassed to have to admit their insecurities. Most of them have been stuck in fright wigs, the better to ridicule the whole concept of changing such perfect, individualistic women into Better Barbies. There’s something rakish and Andy Warhol about them all.

If I want to keep paying my outlandish OC rent, I’d best ask Carrie Yury to find some uglier friends.

In the Office’s tiny back gallery—what is it, 6 by 8?—Amandine Nabarra-Piomelli has almost a mirror-image exhibit. Her still-life photos, on shiny, matter-less white backgrounds, create almost living things from a lovely variety of hideous objects that would do Martha Stewart proud as holiday centerpieces. A shark jaw is crowned with pineapple leaves. A marlin bill is emblazoned with a shiny glass eye. An antelope horn is embellished with berries and moss. The beautiful and disturbing creations are almost kaleidoscopic in their symmetry, the care taken to arrange these odd couples as they float in space breathtaking.

Pretty/ugly, they’re flip sides of the same coin. You know—like Sandra Bernhard and Willem Dafoe.



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