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‘Pheromone Hotbox’ and the Instagrammable Nude

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Kripplebush by Aneta Bartos, 2013.

In a photography exhibition hung wall-to-wall with female nudes, we could talk about The Gaze. Taking in “Pheromone Hotbox” at Stephen Kasher Gallery, though, we didn’t feel compelled to. The artists—Aneta Bartos, Amanda Charchian, Shae DeTar, Olivia Locher and Marianna Rothen—use their friends and fellow artists as models, roaming the city and country for inspiring shooting locations. The result of the all-female cast of characters is something like pin-ups made by progressive millennials.

These women make palpable the excitement of letting go, both artistically and physically—the time in one’s artistic life when there is nothing more exciting than baring all. They are uninhibited, yet unexhibitionist. Marianna Rothen’s works have the most organic feel, filtered with the haze of a summer day rather than the aggressive monochromes of some of Aneta Bartos’ interiors. Calm and unsaturated, the women’s bodies are neither sexualized nor made into features of the landscape. In contrast are the pieces on the adjacent wall from her “Kate at Church” series, which channels cinema sex bombs like Brigitte Bardot. Some of us were happy to indulge in their ambience; others were more hesitant. All in all, these nudes are more fun than loaded. Only Bartos’ works, also the only ones to use sex as an explicit subject, project aggressivity. Their arachnid fusions of bodies in turbid atmospheres are far more uncanny than arousing.

There is much to be admired here, and much that can only be called beautiful. What makes the show interesting on the whole, though, is the undeclared intersection between the commercial and the artistic. “Ginger Entanglement,” one of the works on view by Amanda Charchian, was originally shot as an album cover for the singer/songwriter El May. Olivia Locher, a precocious 23 and fresh out of SVA, is already a prolific photographer whose candy-hued photographs with their sly pop-art bent have landed in the New York Times Magazine among others. (According to her bio, she claims an Instagram following of 91,000.) Bartos, who is known in the art and non-art spheres for her series “Boys,” which depicts men from the art world masturbating, got her start as a fashion photographer; Shae DeTar’s corporeal landscapes have been used to advertise the women’s clothing company Aritzia.

If we listen to the voice of the zeitgeist, we will document and share ourselves and our lives constantly. There is no end to what can be made public, it tells us. The curators of “Pheromone Hotbox” invite us into the “post-selfie” era in which artists confront “post-feminist ideologies.” But do we truly live in a “post”-anything era? If we’re talking ideology, can the nude cross over into the commercial space, and then come back into the art space, without being affected by the transfer? Can we even make such distinctions at a time when boundaries between artistic and commercial are always blurred—and the same between self-portrait and selfie? When does the “art house nude” become another cultural commodity, a shibboleth for New York hipsterdom—satisfyingly poppy with a provocateur edge?

And while we’re asking questions, what is a “pheromone hotbox”? Charchian writes that a “hotbox of uninhibited vision” is created when one woman photographs another intimately, the by-product of pheromones exuded in the process of creation. I’m not going to pretend that means something to me. Can I still like the sound of it?

Pheromone Hotbox was on view until February 28, 2015 at Steven Kasher Gallery



Photos courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery and Kasher|Potamkin, New York