Nov 4, 2011

REVIEW | Hystrionics and The Forgotten Arm - works by Margaret Meehan | Women and Their Work | Austin, TX

The Journeyman. 2011. Edition of 5 & A/P. Archival Print.

Walking into Women and their Work to view Margaret Meehan’s Histrionics and the Forgotten Arm, one sees an interesting juxtaposition of masculine and feminine elements. The first piece encountered is a photograph of a woman wearing a Victorian styled white gown (possibly a wedding gown), white boxing gloves, white wolf-like hair on her face and chest in a white room with a white wooden floor leaning on the back of a white chair. The only hues of this photograph that aren’t white are the pale color of her skin and her light pink lipstick. Most of this image is in soft focus, except for her face, staring directly at the viewer, mouth slightly open. With her boxing gloves and facial hair, she looks somewhat intimidating. Yet the overall white, color of her lipstick and dress makes her look docile. The viewer is confused looking at her, unsure whether to find her threatening or not.

The Haymaker (Glitter). 2011. Edition of 5 & A/P. Archival inkjet print, vintage glass glitter, paint and aluminum.
Walking counterclockwise around the room, the viewer see a small photograph, which seems to be a closeup of the previous photograph, but it’s impossible to tell. The photograph is covered in white/clear vintage glass glitter, except for two holes for eyes and a large area of her neckline uncovered.  The glitter is especially heavy on the face, as if wearing a heavy woolen ski mask in a snowstorm. The image is centered on a piece of aluminum, and appears that the head and tail of the image was dipped in white paint. The hair on her chest appears to be an accent of the dress in this piece. One would probably assume that if one had not seen the first image.

Lacing. 2011. Edition of 5 & A/P. Archival inkjet print.
The next piece the viewer encounters is a medium-sized photograph of the same wolf woman. She has blood coming down her nose dripping down the corner of her mouth into her facial hair. She faces the viewer with the right side of her face, letting her left, bruised eye remain in shadow. This image leaves the viewer to conclude that someone just punched her left eye. The collar detail of her dress is now fully visible, embellished with a masculine, chain-link design 

Rope a Dope. 2011. Velvet, aluminum, poly-fil and thread.
Turning to the corner of the gallery, the viewer encounters a set of velvet ropes. The viewer feels as if she’s staring at the corner of a boxing ring. Curious, however are the carefully tied bows that accent each end of each rope in the corner. The velvet bows seem to tie in with Victorian-like elements of the photographic works. This is the first element of the exhibition that is not white. The viewer is left to wonder why and how the black corresponds to the predominantly white in the wolf-woman pieces.

The Circled Square. 2011. Aluminum, vintage glass glitter and oil stick.
Making a 180-degree turn from the ropes, the viewer sees a perfectly painted circle on the stained, concrete floor of the gallery. Within the circle is a pair of silver boxing gloves on a black glitter piece of fabric. It looks like some sort of circular boxing arena, different from the type one would find the ropes (i.e., a square boxing arena). There is some disconnect between these two pieces which leads the audience to conclude that they may not be for the same type of boxing match. 

Closeup of Jab. 2011. Edition of 5 & A/P. Archival Inkjet print.
Continuing counter-clockwise around the gallery the viewer finds another medium-sized photograph of the wolf woman. She has a black left eye, perhaps a cut under her eye, as if the punch received split her skin open. There is blood on her glove, which implies that she got in a few punches too. The image is in soft focus except for her mouth. A piece of her well-kept white mane has fallen from place, covering her black eye. Her pristine white gown now has a few drops of blood. Her pink lipstick has faded. She is still standing, with her left arm up, thus it appears as though she is still ready to fight.

Glass Jaw. 2011. Vintage glass glitter, cords, bulbs, punching bag, paint and chair rail.
Just left of this image, hangs a glittered, black punching bag from the ceiling. The white walls of the gallery are interrupted by this space. In this corner (no pun intended), the wall is painted black with black-framed moldings (reminiscent of Victorian style). There are seven large, round, vintage bulbs hanging from the ceiling. One of the bulbs rests on the floor. With the bulbs and glitter, the punching bag looks more like an interesting object to look at, rather than one to beat to a pulp. Yet, in this mysterious world the artist creates, it is easy to imagine the wolf-woman actually using this as a punching bag.

The Pugilist (Glitter). 2011. Edition of 5 & A/P. Archival inkjet print, vintage glass glitter, paint and aluminum.
The next piece is another small photograph. It is the same image of the wolf-woman in the first photograph, but on a much smaller scale. Like the second image, the photograph is centered on a piece of aluminum, covered in antique glitter and dipped in paint. Both works have a a winter feel. However, The Pugilist (Glitter) does not seem as effective as The Haymaker (Glitter) because this work is not as integrated as a whole. The glitter added to the photograph creates a definitive outline. The figure appears to be on a separate visual plane than the glitter. In The Haymaker (Glitter), the glitter covers parts of the figure, creating visual depth, thus making it more successful as an image. 

The Barnburners. 2009-2011. Cabinet cards, gouache, vintage glass glitter, paint and wood.
The last piece in the exhibit is a wall of photographs that appear to be from the 18th or 19th century (perhaps from the same time period of the dress in the first photographs). They are covered in mostly black antique glitter and intricate painted line work. All but a few have some white glitter. In contrast with the wolf woman, none are predominantly accented in white. Curiously, none of these photographs include the wolf woman, and aside from the similar treatment of the image, it becomes hard for the viewer to determine the relationship of these photographs to her. Perhaps these images merely add to the type of environment these people live in. 

All the while viewing the works there is an awesome soundtrack playing that overlays atmospheric sounds, voices, and climatic, sad tones, building up as if to help the art tell a story of a battle. Whether the battle is being lost or won is up to the viewer to decide. Overall, the imagery is intriguing and original, as if it’s from a world parallel to ours. The space is small, but as the works are few, it feels like a perfect space. There is plenty of room to examine each object and to really get a sense of the works within the space. 

- Krista Quiroga


  1. I find an interesting parallel between this exhibition and the self portraits of Susan Hauptman. She works solely in drawing, positioning herself in somewhat static, slightly intimidating poses, to draw attention to her carefully picked clothing, which usually plays somewhat with gender roles of today. Though she’s quite often found in extravagant, lady like clothing such as shown here in Meehan’s work, she also exudes an interesting, contradictory masculinity.

    -Kathryn Garner