Cross-dressing for the Battlefield
The barely-open lips, piled updos, and delicate highlights of the women in Natalie Frank’s latest works might remind one of a Rococo painting, but the comparisons would end there. In "Cross-dressing for the Battlefield,” at Salon 94 Freemans and Lyles & King galleries, Frank presents new multi-media sculpture and works on paper showing ruddy heroines, sometimes armored, sometimes accompanied by animal friends. Eight women, rendered in irregularly shaped paper pulp, are on view at Salon 94, including Woman with Owl (2020), in which the titular bird alights upon a woman’s shoulder, like a modern-day witch and familiar.
At Lyles & King, the exhibition continues with a row of figures on the walls; their heads are contained in frames while their bodies, made of vinyl, extend below them. Each seems to embody a facet of feminine strength: one is coquettish, peeking over her shoulder, stiletto’d legs kneeling over a chair; another is authoritative, looking disdainfully at the viewer, cigarette and whip in hand. Before them are laid out artifacts, such as a painted teapot, that are like summoning stones—or theater props. Femininity, Frank suggests though undoubtedly a source of power, is often performed, rather than innate—and it requires a viewer’s participation.
Natalie Frank, Woman with Owl, 2020. Linen paper pulp on cotton base sheet, 29 3/4 x 24 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York. © Natalie Frank